Well it’s really give or take a few hundred minutes or so.
Last year, I set out to go to church early in the morning as I do, as I did for the past 25 years of my life. I was there on time, as I usually was. I clapped my hands in time with the music and sat in the front row so I could throw an approving smile every now and then to my young and unsure drum protege. I bet if anyone saw me, they’d say nothing’s wrong, but I knew something was up.
The church was filled with familiar faces which I usually saw only once or twice a year on VERY special occasions. The mood was somber. They averted their eyes when I came up to greet them. I felt that something really bad was about to happen, but I shook the feeling off. I desperately wanted to believe that they wouldn’t do what I thought they were going to, but I knew in my heart that I shouldn’t get my hopes up.
On our way to church, my little sister asked, “What if they actually do it?”
I heard her voice crack a little bit and I knew I had to say something that she needed to hear. “They won’t. And if they did, I’ll talk to them. We’ll talk to them.”
“And they’ll listen?”
I looked at her and saw her not as the strong, independent, young woman that she was, but as her hopeful, doe-eyed, 5-year old self.
“I’m sure they would,” I lied.
We sat in the dark room that served as the church’s stage wing. We made our way to this spot after realizing that what we were so scared of was starting. This was our safe place. Being a pastor’s kid, being in ministry for so long, being in church for most of your life has its perks. This spot was one of them. We knew where to hide.
Our dad read through a heart-rending speech in which he expressed his gratitude, his apologies, and his intent to take a breather from the ministry. We cried as almost everyone else in church did. We vaguely knew the events that led to his decision and we respected his decision. I was so proud of him. It was the proudest I’ve been of him in my life. The tears that came were cathartic right up to the point when the church’s senior pastor took the stage and started saying things I will never EVER forget.
“Hindi niyo na makikita ang Maravilla family. Wag niyo na sila hanapin. Wag niyo na sila gambalain. Wag niyo silang lapitan sa kahit ano lalo na tungkol sa ministry. Mula sa susunod na Linggo, hindi na sila dito magsisimba.”
(You will no longer see the Maravilla family. Don’t go looking for them. Don’t bother them. Don’t approach them for anything, especially anything concerning ministry. Starting next Sunday, they will no longer be in this church.)
Hot, angry tears came pouring out of my eyes. I could feel my entire body shaking. I heard my little sister’s ungraceful crying and it broke my heart because of how uncharacteristic it was of her. I did not dare to look over my shoulder. I knew my heart couldn’t handle seeing her like that.
It was official. We were out.
I think there was another song after the announcement. I can’t be sure because I was in a daze. I slapped my cheek twice to snap out of it. That part, I remember because it hurt.
I went straight to one of the church elders whom I thought would be kind enough to listen to me. She was, after all, my godmother and someone who was so vocal about pushing us into ministry. I remembered all of the times when she said things like,
“Sorry, anak, ha? Kami kasing matatanda, marami na kaming maling ginawa at ginagawa. Kaya natutuwa ako sa inyo na very bold kayo sa pagsasabi ng kung ano yung nasa Bible. (I’m sorry, my child. We, the older people in church, we’ve done, and still are doing, a lot of wrong things. That’s why seeing how bold you are in standing by what the Bible says is true gives me joy.)”
I went through the small crowd of well-meaning people waiting for me hurriedly to get to her. I cleared my throat to make sure I spoke clearly enough-at least as clear as humanly possible after bawling my eyes out. I asked her it it was at all possible for them to allow my sister and I to stay. We were not part of my dad’s then temporary sabbatical and we hoped to stay.
She shook her head and started on the all too-familiar parable about flying geese.
I begged her to consider letting us stay for just three months. A month? Two weeks? Please. We just need time to properly transition our ministry posts. I was preparing modules for a Tech Team workshop. I was training my drum rotege on how to be a mentor. The Dance ministry, which my sister led was just starting to grow. That was on top of her duties as a Sunday School teacher. We were praying for a revival for the Youth and we were excited about that. Is it possible for us to talk to the elders?
She looked at me and said, “Sabi ni Lord. (The Lord has spoken.)”
In that church, in our old church, that was Christianese for, “Shut up. There’s nothing you can do.”
I’m sure this story was told and retold a hundred times and a hundred ways within the past year. I’m sure there are many versions of it and I’m willing to bet my life that people will say that my version is wrong. But I will rest happy tonight knowing that this is true. How much a man or woman remembers is fascinating. Yes, I may not be able to recite my phone number or find my glasses, but there are moments, hours, events that we can never forget. That day is one of mine.
Other things that I refuse to forget include the things people said to me on that day to console me and the things they said after the day ended. I remember seeing some people jump up and down, hugging each other, celebrating the news we were crying about. I remember a leader whose children I loved dearly come up to me and pat my back and how I genuinely smiled at his awkward expression of affection. I remember hearing from my parents, after 9 months, how that same leader complained about how frequently we spoke in church when they gathered together to decide on my father’s fate. I will always remember because I could remember the Saturday nights when that leader called me on the phone to ask us to speak in his stead the next day giving us only hours to prepare. I could remember biting my tongue when I wanted to ask for the congregation’s grace as I delivered a message cooked only hours before and delivered by a nervous 20-year old high on caffeine. I remember not having any one of the church leaders and workers I loved and respected ask how I was doing including the youth pastor I served under on countless events, projects, etc. I remember tears. I remember crying on Saturdays and Sundays, then only on Saturday nights and Sundays, then only on Sundays, and now, on occassional moments of remembering that still feel like a knife to my heart. I remember the journey from being irreparably broken, to having the strength to feign strength, to being okay, to being who I am today-completely happy. Of all, that is what I want to remember the most.
I write this post for myself. I won’t pretend to have a greater and nobler reason to finally talk about this. I’m not defending anyone-including myself. I don’t have a grand goal. I write this for the sake of writing. That is the end in itself. I write to remember what has to be remembered and to finally start forgetting what I should. I write this to keep my eyes forward.
525,600 minutes has passed. I give myself permission to say this once and for all.
I am NEVER coming back.