Eleventh of April, 2006-that; was the date of my 18th birthday. Yep! My debut, the most important birthday in a girl’s life. This is the year where almost all girls are excited to celebrate. Grand venues, huge crowd, gowns, great food, awesome performances, everything works like magic! However, some would just opt to celebrate it with her family and close friends, keeping everything simple. However, I don’t know if any girl would choose what I chose.
This year, the International Leader’s Conference was on its 13th year. After eight long years, it was finally back in Mindanao. Our conference was held in Davao City! For that, I joined my sector in the praise cruise, riding a Super Ferry 18 from Manila to Davao, with stop overs in Zamboanga and General Santos City. We left Manila on April 3, and arrived in Davao on the 5th. The cruise was about 3 days and 2 nights. However, the cruise going back to Manila would have longer days because of its departure time at the night of the 10th. Going back, we stayed at about 3 days, 3 nights. Well, not really 3 days, but almost three days. So, I guess, by now, you’ve figured it out where my birthday comes in???
Yeap! I celebrated my debut on board! Before leaving Manila, I was excited about the though of it. I cannot wait until the day of my birthday because I don’t know what celebration I would be having. This was definitely something different. I really had a nice time on our cruise going to Davao, so, I anticipated that I would enjoy the trip back as well. Nothing could go wrong, I thought.
April 10 came and our tickets were distributed. My accommodation was still in Green, though I was placed at the inner section. I later learned that there were only three of us left in the Green section, and the rest was placed in the Orange section. I was saddened by the thought because of two reasons. I feel sad because my sector was away from me, and second, I feel guilty because I had a better place in the ship.
We finally boarded and we proceeded to our accommodation right away. We met someone who said that all YFCs should be in the Orange section, the girls in the Upper, and the boys in the Lower. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know whether we’re really going to transfer or not. I was so tired and sad, so I really wanted to sleep, to be alone.
Other things happened, but eventually, the issue was resolved-we stayed on our respective beds. While they were eating dinner (I wasn’t eating because I had no appetite) at the Island Fiesta, the Economy Dining Saloon, the house band was singing songs for the eating passengers. Sitting on one of the chairs on the outer portion of the dining facility, in a table near the bar, I just sat there, my head lying on my folded arms, which in turn were on the table. The other half of the Island Fiesta, the one in front near the band was dark, with the lights on the side were the only ones open. A gloomy feeling swept over me, and it eventually was able to creep inside me. I suddenly felt the need to cry. And I did. I wasn’t able to hold it back. The songs that they were singing were instruments of the sadness that I felt. In all of them, I could imagine any family member who could have sang it in the videoke machine. Right there and then, I missed my family.
It finally sank into my system that I wasn’t going to celebrate my 18th birthday with my family, like I always do, for the past 17 birthdays I had. I missed my mom, my dad, everyone. I wanted to be alone, I didn’t want to cry in public, I needed to be by myself. Shortly after I have calmed myself again, I excused myself and went to my bed, arranged my beddings, and prepare to sleep.
On the other side of the bed, there was a lady who asked me whether it would be okay if her husband and I switch places. I would be on top, and her husband would be in my place. I declined because I was such in a bad mood and I didn’t want to talk to anybody, honestly. That night, I learned that they were Couple Coordinators of Central A2. The following day, I learned that they were the parents of one of my mentors, of a brother who was never my house hold head, but have really taught me a lot in out one-to-one sessions, of the brother who said that a tear fell down from his eyes when I was sharing in front during the first night, of the brother whose birthday was after mine-kuya Nic Escalona Jr.
That night, a lullaby was sung by my angel so that I would not have a crying and tiresome sleep, but instead, that I might have a peaceful and sound sleep. And I did. I set the alarm of my phone to 4:30 in the morning, and thankfully, I was able to wake up. I wanted to experience the sunrise on my birthday. I went up the deck to witness it. At first, I saw a lighter portion of the sky, and I got the hint that that was the eastern horizon, where the sun would rise. I waited for moments, taking pictures with me. While looking at the crack of dawn, I was also reflecting, praying to our God. I was desperately asking for His message for me, for His Birthday Message. I asked Him to reveal to me His plans for my day, and if He would choose to surprise me, I just prayed that He may guard my heart so that I would not experience this loneliness that I was feeling.
Well, I couldn’t really help it. The day was my 18th birthday, the most important birthday in a girl’s life, I didn’t know where in the Philippines I was, and I terribly miss my family.
I watched the sky as it turned light blue from almost pit black. I wasn’t able to see the sun itself because of all the cloud formation in the sky. But still, I captured as much images in my digital camera. I didn’t want to miss how awesome it looked. I sat down in one of the chairs near the railings. I opened my Bible to finally listen to what God would have to say about my day. The sky was bright enough for me to be able to read. All the same, I have to be careful in handling my Bible because of the strong winds that brush my whole body. I was struck by the first reading. It was taken from Isaiah 49 and I highlighted three portions.
“Through you, I will be known.” Is. 49:3
“I am important in the sight of Yahweh, and my God is my strength.” Is. 49:4
“It is not enough that you be my servant, to restore the tribes of Jacob, to bring back the remnant of Israel. I will make you the light of the nations, that my salvation will reach to the ends of the earth.” Is. 49:6
Those three passages I have highlighted in my Bible. I was struck by what it said. Although I know that Jesus was the real person whom this was directed, but since I am seeking to be more like Christ everyday, the passages have a personal impact on me. In the first passage, God affirmed me that He will continue using me as His instrument in making His name known here on earth. Because it was my 18th birthday, I am important in His sight, although I know that everyone is important in His sight, I also know that He looks at each and everyone of us differently. That’s why I am important in His sight, and thus, as I proclaim everyday that He is my strength. The third one really talks about Jesus, being the light of the world, and His salvation would reach to the ends of the earth. As a YFC, I would be one of the people who would help bring the light to the ends of the earth. The sharing of Rissa Singson in Didache made the message even clearer. She shared about how she was brought to this earth and what she had been doing for years now-as a missionary for this certain ministry. As a missionary… The message was crystal, but there was a problem at my end. I seemed not to want to accept what He was telling me. I haven’t started chewing the food He has placed into my mouth. I just ended the prayer by asking from Him wisdom and understanding so that I would be able to swallow what His whole message was.
I wanted to be alone, as much as possible. I wanted to avoid people. But since we were in one ship, I couldn’t do that unless I was in a suite room where I could lock myself up. Our morning worship came late, but it was still a worship. Astig pa rin. Every song was just striking me. King of Majesty, Send Me, and Heaven. I was unable to sing in the middle of the first song because I thought that it wasn’t what my heart was praying, it wasn’t what my heart was longing for.
“King of Majesty, I have one desire, just to be with you my Lord, just to be with you my Lord.”
That was King of Majesty. I couldn’t really say that I have only one desire, and that is to be with God. I had another desire at that moment. I wanted to be with my family, I miss my mom.
“Send me Lord and I will go, to the place you have prepared.”
Second song-send me. I continued crying like a child who lost his toy during this song. How can I sing and pray send me Lord and I will go if I really desire to be with my family on that special occasion? How will I go if I wasn’t ready to leave these things behind me and go to the place God has prepared for me, even if I know that that place was far better than where I was.
“Lord, I wanna be in Heaven with You, right by your side I’ll stay, worshipping you, all day. I will live and die for you. Everything I will do, for heaven is here in my heart.”
Yeah, I wanted to be in Heaven with Jesus. But I really found it hard to sing these songs for my heart had other desires. Then I realized the significance of them all. I remembered the magic formula that has been repeatedly shown to me: deny myself + take up my cross = follow Jesus. And this, celebrating my 18th birthday away from my family was the greatest self denial I ever had. I told myself, that if I would continue following Jesus, I should be prepared to deny myself of being with my loved ones not only during birthdays but as well as during Christmas, New Year, and other occasions.
To be able to really shout and ask God to Send me, I should be able to learn how to handle these kinds of situations. I should be able to learn to really fix my eyes upon Him, learn to deny my desires, my plans, to give way to God’s plans for me.
I forgot to mention another amazing fact. The reflection section mentioned Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know what my plans for you are, plans to save you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and to give you hope.” By the way, this verse was also mentioned in one of the talks during the ILC. Another affirmation that God has really a plan for me-for us-and these plans, no matter how they seemed absurd to us, are for our own good, nothing else.
Then, I realized how they were all connected. As a YFC, I’m a missionary. As a missionary, all those mentioned above was required of me. Because they were all difficult, I could only rely to God for my strength.
I was still fresh from crying when Kuya Philip announced that it was my birthday and so everyone sang the birthday song. Several people greeted me a happy birthday, although I was still really sad. I just cried when Kuya EJ handed me a mini rosary. I wanted to get out of that deck at once because I didn’t want other people to see me crying. I went to my bunk bed and started reading. In a short while, I fell asleep.
I woke up at past one in the afternoon. I didn’t want to get out of bed but I have to because in a short while, they would stop serving lunch. I need to eat. So I got up, and proceeded to Island Fiesta. Before I fell asleep, and as well as when I woke up, I was praying to God that He may please send the right person or persons to whom I will share my realizations for the day. To someone whom I will share the real reason behind my loneliness. I didn’t know who that was; I couldn’t get the right timing to share it to either Julia or the others. I reached the counter and I saw AJ. She was just going to eat her lunch. I asked of I could join her table for I didn’t want to eat alone just like during breakfast. I was still very sad, very lonely, when I was eating. The house band was playing again and still, they sing songs that my mom liked. When they sang “Zombie” by Alanis, I almost cried.
AJ sensed that something’s wrong with me. Then I told her, “nalulungkot lang ako.” But she wasn’t contented, she really wanted to know the reason why. I told myself that she might have been the one whom God sent to hear me out. I led her to my bed where I shared everything. There are two things that she said that struck me. One, is that she made me realize that I have my friends here with me, whom obviously loves me a lot. That I have all the reason to be happy because my parents weren’t there because I went to the ILC, that unlike her, there was really no way to tell herself “Happy Birthday” because on her day, her grandmother was rushed to the hospital. Second, she told me, “ako, sobra akong matutuwa kapag nakita ko si Kristo sa ibang tao, pero mas lalo akong matutuwa kung may isang tao na makita si Kristo sa akin.” She told me that she saw Christ in me. Really, I guess our conversation was planned by God. In her prayer time, she wasn’t able to get God’s message in the first reading. So, when I shared about God’s message to me through that first reading, she was just thankful. Kasi nakatawid na rin sa kaniya yung mensahe.
I am so thankful to AJ, because she did not only see Christ in me, but I also saw Christ in her. By listening to me, and sharing her own experiences, she made me feel lighter. The gloomy feeling was taken away, and all doors were sealed so that there would be no space for that feeling to come back anytime soon.
All throughout the day, until they surprised me with a mini party at the horizon café, I was perfectly happy. That is because I know that Jesus is right beside me, that heaven is in my heart. I have accepted what He was trying to tell me since the start of the day, and that made me feel good. I could only say that He is an awesome GOD.