“I am angry with God!” It was when I finally blurted out this truth long unacknowledged for fear of eternal damnation that I experienced catharsis. And these words were the beginning of a spiritual journey from desolation to consolation, from brokenness to healing, and of a life that would never be the same again.
A month after my basic needs like clothing, food and temporary shelter were provided by Xavier University and when things were getting back to normal, I transformed into an abnormal person – an angry woman. At night I dreamt of getting into a fight with my loved ones while throughout the day I got angry at trivial things. I cannot remember the words I uttered when the horrible Sendong experience was still fresh to me but I am pretty sure that they were nasty and that I made a fool out of myself. Whenever I worry about my actions during the tough Sendong times I just console myself with the words of the speaker in a debriefing that an abnormal situation creates an abnormal reaction; thus, it was normal for me to be abnormal then.
Each time I remembered my losses I would repeat the line of Mandy Moore in A Walk to Remember, “I do not need a reason to be angry with God.” As a result, I displaced my anger to my mother who was willing to drown with my bedridden grandmother and leave me orphaned had I not taken her up to the second floor by force; to the insensitive who demanded my services though I was already suffering from burnout; and to the wise who offered advice on moving on after Sendong though they experienced not the flood and though they knew not how terrible it felt like to lose everything and everyone you held so dear.
One Tuesday, I reluctantly found myself in the consultation room of Campus Ministries Office with Sr. Ranette Angot ODN, my spiritual director. She asked me questions like, “Who or what are you really, really angry at? I want you to search the answer within you before you will make a reply.” So when the answer was already at the tip of my tongue, I said, “I am scared to name my anger.” Then she said, “Your Father wants you to be real before Him.” After a few seconds of silence, I stammered, “Ate, I think I am angry with God.” Then I tried to take back what I said for fear of eternal torment but she quickly advised, “Stay on that feeling! He knows you too well because you are His daughter and He can take whatever you have to say as long as you are real before Him. The moment you step out of this room, I want you to start acknowledging your anger with God and bring it into prayer.”
At last, I was given permission to be angry with my Creator and so I laid down my losses on His table. I got very, very angry with God for not giving me the right to own things and family. I knew that they were His from the beginning and that I was just a mere borrower but I envied those who were given longer borrowing time. In four years He took away those who mattered to me. He took away my close friend and colleague, the late English teacher Miss Gilda Veluz in 2008; fifty percent of my property in a flood in 2009; my Dad who was my crutch, in 2010; my grandma and all that were left to me.
Just like Jacob, I challenged the Creator to a wrestling match and was not willing to let go of His hand until He would yield to my request. “Why?!” I asked if He took away all my possessions to punish me for my sins because if it were the case then I would demand that my case be reviewed because the payment I was made to pay was just too high. I questioned His justice because I saw others who deliberately committed graver atrocities but were left unpunished. I may be a big sinner but I also did some kindness. I then reminded God that since I was a child I have served Him through my community. I asked Him why He was so quick to forget the good I had done yet so easy to remember my shortcomings.
While I was secretly having that frame of mind for 4 days, surprisingly, several kind people visited me and prayed for me and they were the people I least expected to show concern due to our lack of familiarity. The idea that those people were sent by God to cross to my side of the river occurred to me but I quickly brushed that thought aside and told Him, “It is not they I need to see but You. They do not count.” It was Saturday when I said that, 4 days after my conversation with my spiritual director.
The next day, Sunday, my first morning in the apartment we are now renting, I attended mass to tell Him that I was already open for a peace talk. I kept telling Him, “I’m now open for dialogue. If You will it, we can have that Father-daughter talk now.” After the mass, I went back to the apartment to unpack a bagful of donated clothes.
While unpacking, I suddenly felt a great sense of peace and just like watching a swift slide show; I suddenly recalled all the blessings that I received since Sendong. I remembered how Ma and I astonishingly climbed up the roof of our 2-storey Sunday school without using ladders. I remembered how Teacher Amy Clarito met us by chance at the road while we were walking like muddy zombies, brought us strangers to her home, and provided our immediate needs. Few hours after that chance encounter, Xavier community took us in and provided all our needs so that there was never a time that we slept in a congested barangay hall turned evacuation area, begged for food and water, or walked naked and barefoot. Family and friends also gave financial assistance so that we could transport my grandma’s body to Bohol to be given a decent burial. I recalled the blessings and preferential treatments and finally understood that God was present 24/7 during those tough Sendong moments and was giving us our daily bread through compassionate, generous human hands.
I realized that Divine love was made tangible to me by human beings who agreed to be used by God and who made my survival as well as of other Sendong victims as their top concern. After I fully recognized God’s presence since Sendong, I felt overwhelming peace enveloping my body and overpowering love flowing into my heart until when my heart could no longer contain it, I burst into tears and collapsed into the unfamiliar bed. For about an hour I stayed in bed, hugging an unfamiliar pillow and stifling my sobs of joy and repentance. I knew then that on that Sunday morning in my new dwelling, God Himself crossed the wide, deep river of hopelessness to be with me because sinful though I was, I mattered to Him. God may not have revealed Himself to me in ways I expected like in a dream or through an apparition but He spoke to me using His language, the language of peace and love understood only by the heart and my life has never been the same because of that. Yes I got angry at God but He cajoled me and loved me nevertheless.
I do not know how many losses and disappointments I still have to undergo in this lifetime. All I know is that if my faith wavers because of these, I will just go back to my Sendong experience and tell myself that God’s love for us is big enough to heal our wounds, strengthen us in our afflictions and allow us to be real before Him. Whenever I doubt His love, I will just have to remind myself that once I was angry with Him but He cajoled me.
Jennifer Red E. Sabela is a faculty member of the XU English Languages and Literature Department.