February 17, 2017
“This is the best gift ever!” My friend Malaya enthused. She had just came from a singles women retreat over the weekend and expressed a deep gratitude for a much-needed yet unexpected turnaround that would happen in her life. “God used you to bring me to the retreat. I’m the least person to be expected in the event yet I feel so blessed for being there because of the realization on where and how to find peace. Finally!”
Malaya is my friend and classmate during my farming days. We were on this mission to liberate the communities from malnutrition, from chemical pesticides, from the shackles of colonial agricultural practices, because like what her name means in Filipino (being born on Philippine Independence Day), we’re freedom fighters. We may not be taking to the streets with red-inked placards but we knew our platforms—far-flung farms, academic conferences, trade bazaars, school programs.
Malaya and I are also explorers and seekers, we seek the truth where it may be found. We found it in the bright fuchsia blooms of zinnia, the grass blades of heirloom rice, the backyard-distilled fruit wines, late-night barbeques, in painting, in dancing, in music, in poetry. Yet we know it’s never enough, it will never be. We needed a spiritual adventure.
“I’m like a road without stoplights. It’s chaotic, directionless.” Her journey has been tiring, because even if the roadmap has been there all along, she had chosen to rush through things, afraid to miss a moment. And I can say the same about me.
I signed up for the retreat two weeks prior, a decision I came to after stumbling again on a habitual sin. I realized I really needed to immerse in God’s promises to me that He will make a new creation out of me, exchanging the old with the new. It’s a kind of trade that I knew would only require willingness on my part and a lot of working on His end. To be surrounded by mature Christian ladies is something I knew would be a safe venue to be vulnerable to be known of all my sins and be made new.
A week into it, I’d been coordinating with the organizer on how to arrive at the event venue. I still have classes, both teaching and attending, and I decided not to miss them. There were options on coming later, but the time wouldn’t be enough for me to catch the transport service because my university is in another city. I could have driven, but I just came from a long drive the past weekend and it drained me so much I don’t think I could manage to do it again in such short interval. Commuting was a choice but not wise either because safety on this side of town isn’t really the best. So I really wanted to go but it seems like it’s going to be hard how to do so. Then I got a text message from our Sunday School coordinator asking if my absence that Sunday is confirmed. I had asked permission for a leave, but I was half-hearted to confirm because it will be transition day when students would be moved from one class to another but we were faced with clingy students who wouldn’t want to transfer to another teacher, even threatening they won’t show up to classes anymore next week. So that was the last straw. I felt in my spirit that God just wanted me to stay in the city even if it meant missing the retreat.
A few weeks ago, my Bible reading had been in Numbers 22 about Balaam, saddled in his donkey, going to see Balak, but which the Lord had not blessed. God then sent an angel to stand in front of the donkey so that it went out of the way. Balaam struck the donkey so it went back on path again. This happened three times until the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey to rebuke Balaam, then finally the eyes of Balaam to see that such journey displeased the Lord. When I was struggling with the schedule conflict, I remembered this passage. It’s not to say that the retreat is anything similar to an unblessed journey, I’m sure if I had gone, it will be a blessed experience as well, but I can sense the parallelism on how God maneuvers His will, that when God has better plans, He puts natural circumstance to hinder us and ordains all other things in place.
God knew Malaya needed the retreat. I would usually share to her about God and my realizations to her. She’s very open, but she’s also open to New Age and numerology, and the universe speaking to her. My eyes had been opened earlier on and I knew that no amount of religious rites (which she had initially rejected, having asked me if the retreat slot I’m passing on to her was some sort of like that, and to which of course I said it’s not, but would be nothing short of spiritual nonetheless) nor transcendental inner peace can lead me to a life of great spiritual adventure.
Praise God for orchestrating the schedule conflict and for Malaya’s availability. I didn’t know what has been going on with Malaya prior to my invitation. For a few months I’ve been busy with school and I knew she’s been busy with working here and there and figuring life. Yet it disarms me to see on front row how God has His own perfect timing, His masterful directorial skills, His persuasive goodness, to keep me off the list and put my friend instead, knowing that I’m equally, if not overwhelmingly more blessed now seeing a friend who was once lost but now saved and found. It is a beautiful exchange.
“My heart is full and my soul is free!” Yes, Malaya, you’re finally free. We are free! Because a Savior came and exchanged our bondage for our freedom. What a beautiful exchange.
I love Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, “The Great Adventure”. It’s a lifesong because my life hasn’t all been lived in a bubbly fairy-tale world of carousels and ferris wheels. It has witnessed wilderness journeys, lost in desserts, drowning in unknown…yet I knew in my heart that this is what I am created for, to experience the wild blue yonder, to discover horizons and territories beyond farmlands, this is the greatest adventure, and I’m journeying it with God, with Malaya, and with many other men and women who have exchanged their lives for something far more beautiful, far, far more.
Come on, get ready for the ride of your life
Gonna leave long faced religion
In a cloud of dust behind
And discover all the new horizons
Just waiting to be explored
This is what we were created for
Saddle up your horses
We’ve go a trail to blaze
Through the wild blue yonder of God’s amazing grace
Let’s follow our leader into the glorious unknown
This is the life like no other
This is the great adventure
We’ll travel on, over mountains so high
We’ll go through valleys below
Still through it all we’ll find
This is the greatest journey
That the human heart will ever see
The love of God will take us far
Beyond our wildest dreams