Deep breaths and Doodles

Sunday. The sun was out and so it was hot but my new found friends and I were comfortably seated inside Aliw Theater. We were listening to our Feast Builder, Bro. Migs Ramirez deliver the talk of the week. Migs loves telling stories and on that particular day, a gripping story was unfolding right before us – a story that made me literally grip the arm rest of my seat and forget to breathe for about five or more seconds. Good thing, Migs asked us to take a deep breath or else I’d die right there.

Iiinnnnhale, exhale. Breathing is automatic but deep breathing requires a little bit of effort. Deep breathing is breathing deeply into our abdomens, three to four seconds in, three to four seconds out. It is the kind of breath that cleanses the lungs, clears the mind and strengthens the body.

I cannot say that Bro. Migs taught me to take deep breaths but it is apt to say that he reminded me that deep breaths are necessary whenever I find myself in gripping situations or when my back is against the wall or when resources seem scarce… or when I am going to have an interview with famous people like Migs himself.

Butterflies were fluttering in my stomach on the day of our meeting. “It’s okay if it’s going to be postponed because something happened,” I said to my friend Madz who went with me for the interview to make sure I’m not going to faint even before I could introduce myself to Migs. (OA ako minsan)

My friend just laughed at me the same way Migs laughed as I recall the scene to him later in our talk. You see, I love talking to people and asking them questions. It’s my job for the past five years to ask, take notes, and write something worthy from the conversation. But in my past interactions with people, I have reasons for asking them – my boss told me so or the government needs it. This is the first time (I guess, though I am chatty to anyone even with street vendors) that I have asked someone for an interview for my, well, for my blog.

So pag-papraktisan mo ako?” teased Migs when I told him it’s going to be for my blog. I said yes and thank him for his generosity and kindness. We all laughed.

 

No Accidents

As what our favorite panda movie taught us, there are no accidents (Kung Fu Panda, 2008). That is why Migs never called it an accident that from being a 12 year old lector in their parish then, he grew up today to be a teacher and Feast Builder.

“My dad was an officemate of Bro. Obet [Cabrillas]. Umuwi si Papa one day [telling me] meron akong training, public speaker’s training, umattend ka,” Migs recalled.  “Ininterview ako only to find out na hindi sya public speaking course, it’s a leadership training course, so from there, it was all God –incidence.”

Migs remembered how shy he was then during the course since he doesn’t know anyone from The Feast. And so when the time has arrived for a demonstration in their public speaking session –

Ang sabi ni Bro. Obet, piliin ninyo yung pinaka mahiyain sa grupo ninyo, so obviously the choice was me. Tumayo ako sa harap, I gave a talk and that’s when Bro. Obet invited me to accompany him to LSS (Life in the Spirit Seminar) when he would be invited by communities,” Migs related.

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From there, Migs was tapped into Campus Missions then found his way leading worship in Feast Manila. Last year, he became the Feast Builder for the Singles and Youth in the Feast Bay Area.

I have seen a lot of preachers both inside and outside The Feast and there are a lot of times when I notice these people’s distinct characters in teaching the Word, in relating to their flocks and in touching hearts. And so I had to ask Migs on his brand as a preacher.

“I realized, una sa lahat, ako yung preacher na may audience participation, facilitator’s style. Gusto ko yung mga taong kasama, may ginagawa ang mga tao,” he answered.

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The second thing he wishes to be known for is the creative or innovative preacher. Migs shared that his brand is like an offspring of spirituality and creativity.

“For example the book (his book – Imagine This!), it was born out of innovation, creativity. Who has done a book that has doodles and talks about spirituality? [The book] is something that resonates with me, gusto ko laging fresh ang mga bagay.”

 

Imagine This

It was difficult to put down Migs’ book when I started reading it. ‘Imagine This’ is light yet deep, fun yet thoughtful. I finished it right away including the areas for doodling about my life, plans, name and all. (I left two doodle areas blank though, to allow myself more time to think about it.)

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I am sure that the people who have read the book would agree with me when I say that the book deserves to have a part two. And so I took the liberty of asking Migs if there will be a second book.

“I hope so, I want to expect from myself. But in my mind, tatlong libro na ito. The first book is about [your] self, the second book is how to relate with others and the third book is relating to God,” Migs shared.

One thing I liked about the book is its authenticity and honesty. It was written in the perspective of God’s light and so no matter how vulnerable Migs presented himself to be in the book, the readers can only accept him and love him more.

In the book, Migs shared about his feelings of being inferior when he was younger. I think this is a common experience to a lot of people including myself. I asked him as an educator on what can be done to stop having this feeling among our children today.

“It starts at home, it starts from the parents, with the family. We still need love.”

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My copy of IMAGINE THIS! Catch your own copies here.

 

Although Migs shared that he never wanted nor dreamed of being a writer, I still asked him tips for aspiring authors like me.

“Hmm. One would be keep writing which you are already doing. Second would be, this worked for me in a very intimate way, write for one person. Imagine one person who really needs what you are writing about,” he answered.

That’s the word imagine again, dear writers! Remember when Albert Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge?

 

Free Fall

As our conversation went longer, more questions and stories poured over. Knowing Migs’ discernment for his vocation and having difficult times myself in decision making, I asked him, “What were the greatest lessons that your decisions have taught you?”

Ang lalim ng mga tanong, pang Miss Universe,” Migs managed to say. And just like a scene from a question and answer portion of a pageant (less the drama though) he said, “pakiulit yung tanong?

We learned in high school Physics (or maybe even earlier?) that free fall happens when gravity is the only thing that influences the motion of an object. Migs’ answer to the question was the same except that the sole influencer of his actions was not gravity, but his faith.

“Right now, the greatest lesson is to trust. As in the biggest, having gone through so many things. Ibang klase pala yung tiwala, pag naranasan natin sya, it gives you a sense of helplessness. Para kang lumulutang [or] free falling pero alam mong may sasalo. It’s very disturbing at first but it’s very peaceful in the long run,” Migs said (don’t worry, not yet in between tears! Char!).

He then related how he has taken the time to be still and pray for his vocation since last year. Will he return to the seminary? Will he get married and have his own family? These were the things he prayed about. These were the prayers that sent him free falling, trusting and waiting for God to catch him.

One day, God finally laid down His divine hand and caught him. He was brave to make a decision and say it out loud – I’m going to the seminary.

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We can imagine a drum roll after that and expect an ending for this blog entry right here, right now. But I still had one final question: What is your message for single people?

“I would always notice na yung mga kwento nila, kwento ko. Na yung mga issues nila, at one point, it reflects who I am, pinagdaanan ko na rin or pinagdadaanan ko or there’s a part of my life that would connect what they are telling me. So probably the first message I would have is, I am going through the same thing that everybody is going through, all of us have our own struggles, and all of us has a way of dealing with it. I am no better than anyone,” Migs said.

His second message is this: “Most of the time, yung mga sasabihin ko sa kanila, advise ko rin sa sarili ko. Kasi narirealize ko, a lot of our issues come from this longing to love ourselves and to really be at home and at peace with who we are.

[In the past] ang dami kong self doubt, ang dami kong issues sa sarili ko, ang dami kong gustong gawin, pero hindi ako naniniwala sa sarili ko. But I had to accept the fact that I have everything that I need for me to become successful and all is stopping me is myself. If I want to be successful, I just need to do it. And it starts with loving myself. So I think that’s one the biggest things I want to share to all the single people in the world and all the people in the world, actually.”

 

Wow! Let’s take a moment to dig that in. Take a deep breath.

It starts with loving ourselves – our dreams, our healing, our relationships, our passion, our faith. And it is my fervent prayer that we all start loving ourselves more and more, not in a selfish way but in a way that expands our hearts to accommodate more people in it. The bigger our hearts, the fuller our lives. The fuller our lives, the more we glorify the Lord.

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Before we parted ways, I did not waste the chance on having Bro. Migs sign my copy of his book. I purposely did not look while he was on it. I wanted to be surprised. On my way home, I peeked on the front page like a kid sneaking a hand in a cookie jar. I smiled to myself to what I saw – doodles in red, blue and yellow inks. 😊

 

Bro. Miguel Ramirez is a preacher, singer, composer, teacher and most recently, an author. Bro. Migs has also founded the BIG CATCH Creative Training Co., which aims to unleash people’s creativity and motivation. He is the Feast Builder of the Feast Bay Area Singles and Youth in the Name of Christ (SYNC). The Feast,  which is one of the happiest places on earth, is a weekly Catholic gathering of the Light of Jesus Family. 

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Dearest Tatang (A letter to my long departed paternal grandfather)

(I wrote this a few days before my birthday last February. I did not share it then because I feel this is so raw and it is still raw today. I could still improve this in terms of construction but that would take time when all I want to do is to share something personal and true this Father’s day. Happy father’s day to all!)

 

Dearest Tatang,

In a few days from now, it will be exactly 27 years since you first held me in your arms and bragged to everyone that I look like you. It’s almost three decades and here I am this morning, crying like a baby as if you were gone only yesterday. Crying is not even the word to describe it, maybe wailing is a more appropriate word. Why do you have to leave so soon? Why did you have to leave me without a memory of you or a lesson or at least one bonding moment? Can you please ask God to send me answers to my questions? I was barely a year old when you left and I didn’t even know your voice. Why?

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They say this is one of your favorite poems. They say you would recite it once in a while, maybe after getting occupied with your woodworks. Now that reminds me of the table where I am currently writing this, you made this and that’s why I so love this table. I even refurbished it with your bunso (my father), if you saw us that day.

If you only left when I was a bit older, say six or seven years old when I can already speak. Maybe you could teach me the poem and watch me recite it in front of you. You know, I was already reading English at five! We were already reading the Come and Play book at school.  You could have also taught me other poems or read short stories for or with me. You know Tatang, I adore stories today. I love reading and has in fact just finished reading four books this month. You will be proud of me.

They say that you’ve been also in the army. My father would tell me the anecdotes you told them when you were still in the battlefields. And I would imagine you, young, wearing commando’s clothes and fighting in the fields. If you were alive today, you would be happy that I am working with the government too. With the stories I hear about you, I know you loved our country too. You’re a father and a patriot.

They say you’re the best encourager ever. You would push your children to pursue and chase away their dreams no matter what. I remember when Ate (my aunt, the second eldest among the brood of six) would always recount the story of her taking the Licensure for Teachers’ Exam. You were always there for her – providing money for the exam and providing tons of encouragement. She passed the exam and started teaching in a private school. Now with your wisdom, you pushed her to transfer to public school where she can be more appreciated, both morally and financially. That’s what she did and she always tells us it’s one of the best decisions she ever made her entire life.

If you were alive today, I am sure that you will also be my number one fan. You will be my bank of good words and love whenever I feel lonely or discouraged. You will hug me each time I cry and I know you will teach me how to fight again.

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One of two surviving photos of my grandfather. I thought there’s a photo of us together but I found out that I only fabricated that photo in my mind after hearing stories of him saying I was his favorite apo.

 

They say you were a diligent carpenter, good husband and provider. You work with much concentration and precision. I think that’s one of the things my father got from you because whenever he works on my project, it’s really taking him long! He makes sure all the measures are correct, all the lines are ‘pantay’ and all the materials are complete. You also loved Inang and the kids with all your heart. I know that from the tales I was told.

My birthday is coming and I also miss Inang. You know, she would be the first person to greet me every time I celebrate my birthday. She never fails to be the first greeter, believe me. She would go downstairs first thing in the morning and greet me and of course bring me cash gift. haha! 😁 Please send her my love and greetings too in heaven.

I dearly miss you Tatang. If there is a time machine where I can travel back in time to see and meet you in person, I would trade anything for it. But maybe all I can do now is write you letters and read them out loud for you to hear. This is the only thing I can do now, to wait for my spoken words to dissolve in thin air until it reaches heaven.

Lots of love from your favorite apo,

Neris

Life and Love of Louis and Zelie

He aspired to be a priest but was told to study Latin first. He tried to learn the language but one day, he just sold his French-Latin Dictionary and dismissed the idea. Instead, he decided to become a watchmaker and devoted five years of study to perfect the craft. After two years of study and three more years of specialization in Strasbourg and Paris, respectively, he came back to Alencon, bought a house and started his watch-making and watch-repairing store.

She was brilliant and got first place in French composition ten out of eleven times. She too had dreamed of entering the religious life but God has other plans. The detailed and demanding work of lacemaking had been her career. Becoming an expert to such craft, she was able to build a group of women to work on the designs she made. This she did until her business grew.

The story goes that as the two of them were crossing the bridge of St. Leonard in Alencon, she heard a voice saying, “This is he whom I have prepared for you.”

On July 13, 1858 in the Church of Our Lady of Grace, Zelie Guerin and Louis Martin tied the knot. And there began one of the best marriages that the Catholic Church has ever formed.

However, there’s just one catch, Zelie had only discovered some ‘facts of life’ on the day of her wedding. She then came running to her sister to pour her heart and tears out. Louis on the other hand, being the romantic that he is, convinced her that they would just live together as brother and sister.

Ten months have passed and they both realized that is not the set up that God wanted. Zelie also expressed her desire to have children and so on the following year, Marie was born (February 22, 1860) then Pauline (September 7, 1861) and then Leonie (June 3, 1863).

Meanwhile, Zelie’s business grew so much that Louis sold his watch-making business to his nephew to help his wife manage. Louis would also make lace designs and travel much for business. Imagine, he gave up his passion, those five years of intricate study for the love of his life.

Distance was never a limitation to them. Zelie wrote more than a hundred letters to Louis, to her sister and brother. Louis would also write her letters, one of which went like, “I embrace you with my whole heart while awaiting the joy of being with you again. I hope Marie and Pauline are being very good.”

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The couple was not spared from hardships too. They both endured the passing of their fathers and four children (Helene, Joseph-Louis, Joseph-Jean-Baptiste, Melanie-Therese). The children died of intestinal infection during that time. Zelie had two more girls – Celine (born before Melanie) and Therese, our little flower (born last).

Therese became ill right after birth and so she was sent to a wet-nurse, Rose Taille to breastfeed her since Zelie had signs of malignant growth on her breasts. Rose who lives in a farm nine kilometers away from Alencon took care of our little flower until she grew to be a strong child.

Therese was four and a half years old when Zelie felt pain and lumps in her breasts. She realized she has cancer but it was already too late, the doctor said it was already terminal. On August 28, 1877, Zelie passed away at the tender age of 46.

In her autobiography Story of a Soul, Therese wrote of the moment, “The touching ceremony of the last anointing is also deeply impressed on my mind. I can still see the spot where I was by Celine’s side, all five of us were lined up according to age, and Papa was there too, sobbing. The day of Mama’s departure or the day after, Papa took me in his arms and said, ‘Come, kiss your poor little mother for the last time.’ Without a word I placed my lips on her forehead and I looked and listened in silence.”

Now, Louis asked himself, ‘how can I raise five young girls without their mother?’ ‘Who would be their woman influence?’ He decided to move to Lisieux where Isidore Guerin lives with his wife Celine and two daughters, Jeanne and Marie.  Isidore Guerin, Zellie’s brother leased a house called Les Buissonnets for the Martin family who arrived at Lisieux on November 15, 1877.

For the love of his children, Louis gave up living in Alencon where most of his friends live, where his mother still resides and where Zelie was buried.

Louis’ struggle in bringing up his daughters didn’t stop in Lisieux. He had worries during Pauline and Marie’s entrance to Carmel in 1883 and 1886, respectively and Therese’s serious illness five months after Pauline left. The doctors could not make an explanation for Therese symptoms and so the Martin family turned to Our Lady of Victories for intercession.

Therese also fervently prayed to the heavenly Mother for her healing. She recounted, ‘All of a sudden the Blessed Virgin appeared beautiful to me, so beautiful that never had I seen anything so attractive, her face was suffused with an ineffable benevolence and tenderness, but what penetrated the very depths of my soul was the ravishing smile of the Blessed Virgin.’ At that moment, Therese shed tears and was instantly healed.

Louis suffered from a mild stroke in 1887. Sometime after the stroke while he was recuperating, Therese asked him for permission to enter Carmel too. She was only fourteen, too young to enter Carmel. Louis and Isidore allowed Therese to enter, however, they had a hard and long time convincing the Bishop.

Louis then accompanied Therese in Rome to meet the pope. On November 20, 1887, Therese met with Pope Leo XIII and wrote on her journal, “A moment later I was at the Holy Father’s feet… and lifting tear-filled eyes to his face, I cried out: Most Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask you!’ The Sovereign Pontiff lowered his head towards me… ‘Holy Father, in honor of your Jubilee, permit me to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen!… ‘Most Holy Father,’ answered the Vicar General, ‘this child is who wants to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen, but the Superiors are considering the matter at the moment.’ The Holy Father replied, ‘Do what the Superiors tell you!’ Resting my hands on his knees, I made a final effort… ‘Oh Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will agree!’ He gazed at me steadily, speaking these words and stressing each syllable: ‘Go, go, you will enter if God wills it!”

Therese finally entered Carmel on April 9, 1888. On the night of her entrance, a friend said to Louis, ‘You are really better than Abraham.’ Louis replied, ‘Yes, if I were in Abraham’s place I would have made the same offering, but at the same time I’d have been praying and praying and praying. I’d have been lifting the knife terribly, terribly slow and asking God to send me the angel and the ram.

The next day, he wrote a friend a message, ‘Therese, my little queen, entered Carmel yesterday. God alone can exact such a sacrifice, but he helps me mightily so that in the midst of my tears my heart overflows with joy.

Louis suffered from more strokes after Therese’s entrance to Carmel. He was so patient with his sufferings saying that God is purifying him. On July 29, 1984, Louis Martin had a heart attack and peacefully passed away.

I can only admire these two individuals who gave their all five children to God. Zellie, innocent that she is, became the most loving mother while Louis as the family’s protector had given up a lot of things for his love for his family. Reading their story and writing my own version about it made me feel the pinch in their hearts that they must have felt when they were separated from each other and when each of their children enter the religious life one by one. They have touched me deeply. And as they are proclaimed saints joining their little queen Therese, I can only pray to have the same zeal in serving the Lord.

My sources were:

Fr. James Geoghegan, OCD’s article, The Parents of St. Therese

http://www.thereseoflisieux.org/the-parents-of-st-therese-fr/

An Introduction to the Life and Message of St. Therese of Lisieux

Sister Mary Cecile Pabilona, OCD (Jaro Carmel, Philippines)

The Death of my Cousin and the Things that Really Matter

Exactly a week ago today, I received the most dreadful news one can ever take – my cousin’s dead. He was shot in the head and was immediately rushed in the hospital in the hopes of saving him. But we still lost him. I can only imagine what happened to him from my relatives’ tales – his blood flowing all over the place and over his companion’s body who was with him during that time, how he was rushed in the best hospital in our town, how my mother hoped he will be fine and how he totally said goodbye. In an instant, he was gone. He was young, not to mention good looking. He had lots of dreams to pursue on top of the success he has accomplished. But he was gone. He will never return but he left me thoughts and things that I think, really matter.

Some people around me who learned of the sad news asked, “Were you close with him?” I cannot help but feel sad and somehow offended by the question. I feel sad because the truth of the matter is, we were not close. Being both introverts of the family, we were both the quiet ones who will just laugh along and smile along. However, I think that it is ridiculous to base my grief to the frequency of our talks or meeting. Maybe to some, learning about a death of a person who’s not close to them does not break their hearts into pieces. But my heart is different. My heart that breaks with the simplest injustice in our society mourns deeply in his death. Does it matter if we were close? I think not. What matters is that I love him.

On the day he died, nobody saw what really happened. Even if our neighbor gossipers talk of what happened as if they were in the scene, believe me, nobody saw what happened. Nobody knows the entire story and so the first question that baffled us was how did he die? I personally grapple for answers and tried to come up with a story that my mind and my heart can accept. But all I want to hear is the truth, the truth that may never reveal itself. Does it matter how he died? I think it is more important to think and always remember how he lived. He lived with passion for what he does. His friends told us how hardworking and committed to work he was. I also remember my mother telling me how my cousin got irritated at someone who was offering him money in exchange for something. Wow, I said to myself then, I have a new inspiration in serving in the government. He was an upright public servant, a decent man and I am just so proud of him.

My cousin was generally a silent person. Does it matter if in his lifetime, he talked so little? I don’t think so. I know behind his silence is a great love for his family and for the nation – two of the best things that fuel his everyday life. I would like to believe that in his silence, there are hardships he endured, successes he savored, pains he overcame and love he deeply felt.

On the day when we said our last goodbye, all I managed to say were: Bye. Rest in peace. Till we meet again.