It took me 19 years to get to the surface of the answer. It took me 24 years to finally wrap my brain around it and something about it.
To the people I’ve come across, I sincerely apologize from the depths of my heart. I’m sorry for not understanding it as much as I do now, I’m sorry for thinking I was better than you, I’m sorry for having to put you down to bring myself up, I’m sorry for not being able to explain my beliefs as well as I would’ve been able to now, I’m sorry for wasting those opportunities, I’m sorry for being selfish, and I’m sorry for being scared. Usually we hear of stories about people from the outside coming in, but this is of a different kind. I hope not to offend or insult anyone with what I say as I want strongly reiterate, this is MY story and MY experience.
Ever since I can remember I grew up in a Christian home and community. Surrounded by what was right I never had the benefit of the doubt or the opportunity to be excused from doing wrong, because I will at the end of the day always know better. And I did.
I grew up blindly obeying truths that made sense to me at the time. But throughout my childhood and teenage years I realized a lot of differences between my Christian friends and I. I saw a gap. What was it that made them so passionate, joyous, filled with purpose, and seeming like they’re effortlessly living right.
Why wasn’t I the same? What was wrong with me?
I was stuck, frustrated, angry, resentful, impatient, and unsatisfied with who I was and where I was. I had a vision for myself that I had no map to get to.
Through countless stories I’ve listened to and stories I’ve heard. I felt bad that I had none of my own. No experiences nor stories of struggle to share, no dramatic climaxes and resolute revelations. I made it a point to try on different personalities checking which one fit in which situation. Thinking I wasn’t good enough, thinking my story wasn’t good enough.
I turned self-righteous, prideful and judgmental. I thought that since I looked jolly and okay on the surface, what went on in my head and heart didn’t matter.
But life gave me the biggest slap on the face when I fell in love with a Christian who looked perfect on paper later on realizing he was far off from who he presented himself to be. During a time where I judged, rule-breakers, rebels, drunkards, druggies, promiscuous people, and anyone who had a hint of wrong, I was duped by a person whom I thought was almost perfect.
This ruined my perception of the church as I also started uncovering one secret to another. It wasn’t as shiny and pristine as I thought it was.
What was this lie I bought into?
I depended on my church to keep me Christian. It was their fault and their duty and they failed. A purity ring I was given on my 18th birthday, started to lose its meaning little by little.
I felt heartbroken and betrayed by my church and my beliefs. At the time, I felt like I had to pay for my innocence and naive thinking. So I did everything I could to get rid of it.
This result into a long period of backsliding. Overcorrecting my previous pseudo-relationship (because we all wanted our first to be our last), I ended up falling love with someone who was the complete opposite, a guy who seemed rotten on the outside had one of the most genuine hearts I’ve ever come across.
Learning from my previous mistakes, I judged people outside of the church less and have become accepting and understanding of mistakes and humanity.
Try anything at least once became my thing. I kept myself in check by justifying that I was only bending the rules and almost-breaking them — that was the only way I was able to alleviate my guilt.
I wanted to understand what was so bad about this worldly life because I never appreciated the gift I already had in possession.
I found the most genuine and loving people outside of church, relieved and happy, I turned away from the false images I felt betrayed by in church.
Ever since then I never saw anything as black and white anymore.
Everything was a gray area.
I blurred all the lines I used to rigidly follow and I’ve learned to question everything.
I started having fun. I became adventurous and fearless for once. Despite knowing what was right and what was wrong, I defined my own set of rules instead. I said that as long as I could balance, then I’d be okay.
As long as I drank and didn’t get wasted, as long as I dropped and got high only on special occasions, as long I smoked to only keep my buzz controlled or as long as I got physical only up to a certain point, then I’d be fine because I would always have control and I was proud of it.
I relied on my instincts and my gut. I was self-indulgent and thrived on a hedonistic lifestyle chasing achievement, approval, adventure and love. I was proud of how I’m able to fall and get back up a better version of myself without a scratch.
Resilient, tenacious, and fearless.
But of course, life slapped me in the face once again when I went through my dark years: I got kicked out of Ateneo Law; my overcorrection of another pseudo-relationship turned into shambles as I realized that I couldn’t fix people no matter how much I tried; despite my good intentions to help I was being drained by the people I was surrounded with and I was caught off balance.
I stubbornly refused the truths that were screaming in my ear. I told myself these things have to happen, these experiences will mold me, this is a part of life, and something good will come out of this.
What used to be a finely tuned compass of which I relied on — ended up leading me in the wrong direction.
I had a hint of blind trust and faith still left within me and I clung on to that with the hardest grip I could ever muster. I still had God in my life and I latched on to Him knowing I had the limitless source by my side. I begged for help and clarity but I couldn’t let a lot of things go.
Despite my good intentions reality is — results are the only things that count.
The same way a back-handed compliment is not a compliment. It’s still an insult. A justification. It’s not about the message you want to give, it’s the message they receive.
Slowly, my high self-esteem and self-respect started to dwindle and I was running on empty and turned into a dim light robbed of potential and positivity.
Life knows when to wake you and shake things up.
I found myself stuck in a job that payed well but a job that I knew I would never love while I tried another freshman year of law school somewhere else.
When your weekdays and weekends are filled with a feeling of being stuck — you beg for way out and grab everything you can at every moment possible. I became an escapist chasing one stimulus after another.
I searched and indulged in every environment possible. But I also took charge of my life in the right way, I started to figure out what it is I wanted and who I was.
It seemed like a good trade off.
But the problem was, despite all the good that was finally going on, something felt lacking, and what used to be thoughts screaming into my ear turned into faint whispers that reminded me of what I always knew I should’ve started with — my relationship with my Dad (God-Father-Holy Spirit-Jesus-Whatever you call Him).
Although he’s been a watchful eye and guide, I never gave him the attention and love he deserved.
Turned off by my experience in church, I relied on our one-on-one relationship instead and felt like I had more than enough already.
Dissuaded by black and white rules to submit to my Dad was something I intentionally rebelled and was repelled against. Probably why I never wanted to share my beliefs nor was I proud of being a Christian.
But I craved it.
I felt the big gaping hole my spiritual family left and longed for another ever since.
I knew what I lost.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming them or their ways for being the reason of why I backslid. I love these people dearly to this day, and I still keep in touch with some of them. I have made efforts to reconnect and reestablish whatever was left but for some reason God never allowed it. I used to blame my church for it but God I realized was testing me.
He wanted to see whether or not I pursued Him for the right reasons.
There’s a book called the The Last Lecture and it spoke of our wants and desires in life. The author said that for the things we want most, it will always be hardest to conquer or to acquire, the wall between those who get what they want and those who don’t stand high and mighty as a reminder.
It is a reminder that you have to go through sacrifices and struggles to get to where you want because the only ones who can get across are those who really want it and to keep those who don’t out.
Danah and Stacy, two of my good friends, had been inviting me to CCF for the longest time. But of course, being jaded and cynical with my previous experience, I dismissed it entirely.
Seeing them struggle and go through the same phases with me, through the good and the bad, instead of supporting them wholeheartedly — I judged them for it.
Although it was wrong to judge a church by one person, it’s what I did and it further pushed me away.
But slowly despite the backsliding, I saw them change and improve little by little, I thought maybe there was a difference. But I told myself the right time will come and I will eventually be ready for it.
I remember being invited to different retreats but for one reason or another, it never fit my schedule, even if I wanted to go.
But it was this year, 2014, the year I finally said goodbye to pseudo-relationships and project-guys, the year I got out of a short relationship where I felt my previous convictions were strengthened when I was able to realize that I don’t have to settle for less, the year I started seeing the difference between intentions over results, the year I believed that I didn’t need to be anyone else but me, the year I finally gained clarity, the year I chose to start pursuing my passions and talents, and the year I realized I was blessed with a period in my life where my only limit was my imagination as long as I was with Him. The year I believed being me was more than enough.
And one month ago, to cap off my decision to finally quit my job, to drop law school and finally accept that it was not my calling, to go on my second solo trip, and finally embracing my talents and abilities by pursuing the creative industry, I saved the best for last.
Because even after 24 years of being a Christian, I’ve never been baptized.
I wanted to attend True Life 3.0 but I was scared and felt unfamiliar. I felt like a stranger in my own home and I desperately prayed for that feeling to go away.
Attending each session and meeting one person after the other, I heard all the negative voices in my head and with every session my heart grew heavier and heavier.
Suddenly, something sunk in when I heard Nico Ang’s testimony. It was when I heard about Living Free. A group of people who helped each other deal with gender issues in CCF.
At a time that I believed in a black and white church — this completely caught me off guard.
Living a life surrounded by people struggling with difficult issues, I longed for a community that was truly a hospital for sinners.
As much as I wanted to introduce my Dad to the people I loved the most, I couldn’t figure out a way how without turning them off or judging them from the surface.
Then I realized, wait — what? Oo nga noh! People are actually open about their past and their struggles here. People actually aren’t afraid to put their hearts on their sleeves, and people here understand that it’s a lifelong struggle. Being used to opening up and suddenly feeling shame, insincerity, and judgment I realized how different it was here.
It was then that I felt like I found my family. (Shet. Baka ma-jinx)
Now, I’m not saying everyone’s the same or everyone’s going to be as understanding.
We are all human and we are bound by different beliefs, convictions and experiences. Maybe I was lucky with my experience in that retreat.
Every church has its flaws and strengths.
I don’t hold this church to be perfect or to be the answer, not anymore.
But I do see it as a fresh start and a chance to begin. Nothing is perfect. The Christian life is impossible, we even say so ourselves, because that’s the point — it’s only with my Dad in my life that I can really do it.
I want to make it clear that I am not abandoning my church in exchange for another and I do not blame my church for what happened. This kind of environment and people also exist there. But I just know that this is where I’m meant to be in right now, a community that came at the time I finally had the courage to be myself and be embraced for it. Who says I can only be part of one family anyway?
In society, we are perceived as snooty holier-than-thou Christians and I wish I could change that.
We are perceived as overnight miracles, and a church for people who don’t want too many rules, or sometimes we are even deemed as the “cool” choice. I used to judge a church by the person, and although it’s hard not to, I hardly do it anymore, hey, no one’s perfect.
We are not bound by our past and our mistakes, we are not bound by judgments and perceptions.
Countless time people have asked me why I chose to be a Christian and I could never give an answer, finally, I can say this:
I choose to be a Christian because only in Christianity did I understand the true meaning of love, being a hopeless romantic paired with a realistic outlook on life, I appreciated being patiently and persistently pursued by my Dad not by cheap tricks, manipulation, sympathy or fear, but purely by unconditional grace, mercy and love. He waited for me to want to choose Him out of my own desire and curiosity and never forced me once.
Like a father to his daughter, a husband to his wife, a mentor to his mentee, a master to his student, and a friend to a friend.
You see, there’s a big difference between need and want.
You will only achieve the bare minimum with the things you need to do, but there’s no limit to what you can do with the things you want. Now, I’m 100% sure that I know I want to commit to Him, finally, without a shadow of a doubt and a better understanding of what it means to be Christian. The same you want someone who wants to be with you not someone who needs to be with you.
There’s a lot I still have to learn. I know there’s a couple of kinks I have to work out. It took me a while to get here and I don’t scoff at the routinely told prodigal son story anymore because I am His daughter finally and willingly coming home.
Now, I’m not saying I’ll stop living in the gray area, enjoy certain types of movies or music, nor do I say I’ll stop smoking, drinking, partying and indulging in myself. Heck, I’m pretty sure I might still enjoy Laboracay 2015.
Because saying that I won’t is bullshit.
What I do declare is that this is the first step and that on August 25, 2014, the day I chose to commit to Him and get baptized.
What I can promise is to consistently choose to choose less of me and more Him every day.
Step by step. Little by little. Through His love I will transform and change without feeling any pressure, judgment, or fear of becoming His daughter serving his purpose for the rest of my life.
Truthfully, I hated declaring things because people hold you up to it.
Just like declaring you’re on a diet, people will notice the slightest things and permanently put a magnifying glass on you to watch for any mistakes. They’ll remark on every candy bar, krispy pata, or burger indulgence you give in to. They’ll say, “O kala ko ba diet ka na?” and if not, they usually try to tempt you away from it, “Sige na, just one bite, it’s not going to hurt your calories” or whatever it is they say they immediately put you on a higher pedestal and test you for it.
They make it harder to be honest, which is why I initially wanted to send this to people I know who know me and understand me because right now they’re the only ones whose opinions matter. But they’ve since told me to share it and that it’s okay.
I’m not going to be a different person tomorrow.
I won’t shout my faith in your face and aim to convert you or whatever it is we’re usually perceived of doing. That’s the last thing on my mind because I know that it will never work that way. This is why I only answer or share to those who are curious and actually ask me about it because I never wanted to pressure anyone into it.
I’m not better than you nor will I ever claim to be again. I will not be a hypocrite and claim that it is easy. I’m still the same person. I’m still me and the biggest misconception there is — is that once you choose this you’re automatically changed.
This isn’t magic.
I’ll still probably think, talk, walk and act the same.
Just like getting fit, getting a career you want, or becoming the person you want to be. It will be a lifelong struggle and journey. I will still make mistakes, fail, and might even intentionally sin at times. I will probably change profanity last. And I’m hoping it won’t take me 24 years before I find my husband.
But hey, I’m the daughter of the Father of miracles, who knows, things might change faster than I think.
With Him by my side, and with a supportive and loving family, friends and community to help me along the way, I know and trust with my whole heart that I will be living out my story without worry or doubt but with a conviction that everything happens in God’s perfect timing.
I’ve come to reconcile that Christianity isn’t and shouldn’t just be based on the church or on the people, but God himself.
As my good friend, Sabu, put it, perfect, blameless, and ever pursuant of His children.
For those who are hesitant, in doubt, paranoid, who panic at the thought of being judged, shamed, and belittled for your past or has told you that change or being better is impossible and people are and will always be the same — know that this is never His intention and he apologizes for the result of it.
This is never his purpose and that isn’t His definition of unconditional love. Once you get to know Him, you will see that this is far from his goal. Whoever does this or has done this to you, I apologize on their behalf.
Do not worry, fret, or fear being who you are and find joy in your struggles and pride in your accomplishments however personal or hard to understand they may be.
There is no buzzer, deadline, or time limit in this journey. It’s a marathon not a sprint.
Maybe He isn’t the answer. I’ve considered that at one point and I’ve accepted it. But with a multitude of stories, evidences, miracles, stuff I can’t even figure out or explain, I know no other answer.
I hope you find people who will accept you, understand you, walk with you, stay with you and love you for who you are and I hope you realize and appreciate and find your limitless rich source of love, joy, hope and that you never feel empty, meaningless, without purpose or lost. That change is possible on your own, but change is greater if you decide to trust Him just a little bit more each day and that being you is more than enough but He loves too much to let you stay that way.
On the plus side, we all relish making mistakes anyway — it might just be the best mistake you’ll ever make.
I wish I could tell all my stories but this one’s long enough for now.
This is my individual journey and I hope you could one day tell yours too.
This is my story and this is only the first.
I hope you find your answer.
To anyone who has or is struggling with a similar situation and you feel like talking to someone about it, feel free to message me on Twitter or Instagram: @shekbangsil or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m all ears.