Angie with friends in Inishbofin
Faith Is My Stronghold
In the history of human life suffering is what every person will encounter in their lifetime. Not even Jesus, the Son of God, was spared from pain as He too had to suffer to fulfill the plan of the Father for His people. A mother could never give birth to a new life unless she goes through the pain of labor. No single human being or any creature has ever escaped pain. It is a reality for each and every one of us.
One of the known attributes or characteristics of Filipinos is that they have a good disposition about life. Even in the face of disaster, many Filipinos will still smile. It has been proven through the years in the many unexpected events and occurrences experienced by the Filipino people; calamities, natural phenomenon, illness, accidents and others. The result is of one of the great virtues anyone can have, "resilience."
Resilience is not something we learn from books, it is caught and adopted through the obstacles and challenges thrown at us in life. Many Filipinos would have experienced one way or another a time in life when everything seems to go against them and nothing is going right. In the Filipino language we call it "dagok ng tadhana," and it can have two effects; make us strong or turn us to misery. With resilience, Filipinos oftentimes–but not always–become stronger.
Our belief and trust in God's providence is where we get the strength to remain positive amidst the turmoils brought about by natural disasters, illnesses or accidents. Despite the many dagok ng tadhana, we don't lose faith but rather become stronger in confidence that God is with us no matter what. God's promise of unconditional love is what makes us strong in moments of suffering.
I can attest to this myself not just because I am a Filipina, but because of my lived experience. My trust in the loving kindness and mercy of God is what helped me face two tragic events in the family. First was the death of my then 21-year-old sister who after just finishing college suffered Systemic Lupus E and passed away a year after diagnosis of this rare illness. Eight months after, while in Ireland, I received an unexpected message from home that my father, aged 65, died suddenly due to cardiac arrest. Losing my sister was the darkest day of my life, but going home eight months after to my father's funeral was the end of the world for me. If I were without faith, these two events could have turned me upside down and could have caused me insanity. Without faith, I could not fathom how this could happen to my family.
Faith is the essential ingredient for positive living. Accepting the reality that there are things we have no control of and then embracing those things can bring us happiness. There are realities in life over which we have no control–sickness, aging, and death. These are all part and parcel of what we call life on earth. I learned that quickly enough after the two bereavements in the family, and I know there will be another time when I have to go through it again.
Another thing is "take each day as it is." The fact that each day brings unique situations and experiences teaches us to take life as it comes and not worry about the day before or the day after. Take the day as it comes. Be present to the moment. Every day is to be treated as it is and what it brings.
Everything passes. Nothing is permanent in this world, even the good times. Pain and suffering will pass. So if we are suffering now, we know that it will pass. All will come to pass so we should not hold on to worldy things.
In the short time I spent in London this summer, to help on a mission appeal, I was struck by the stories I heard about Filipinos who came to the United Kingdom in the early 1980s.These Filipinos fought a good fight with the help of the Columban missionaries to remain in the country so they can provide for their families back in the Philippines. Many of them endured physical, emotional and psychological abuse and tolerated many insults from their employers calling them names and other verbal abuse. Thirty years after arrival, they are living their life as British citizens and couldn't have been happier after the suffering they went through in the early years in Britain.
In my seventeen years of working in Ireland as a lay missionary, I tried to bring about positive living by my witness to the life I have chosen. It is the same principle from the Gospel that St. Columban himself took "I have come that they may have life and live it to the full." Choosing life as a missionary gives me more opportunity to live out the faith that has been my stronghold and helps me to have a positive outlook in life.
Recently I was faced with the reality of illness. I was found with a lump in my left breast. This brought concern and could have been a source of stress. However, I knew I could only be certain of its seriousness after a mammogram and biopsy which I had a few days after consulting my physician.
From the time of the biopsy up to the day of the result I knew in my heart I have totally offered and surrendered my life to God. I am ready whenever my life on earth is over. But God must have other plans for me. The lump is benign. This experience makes me live out the Gospel more, "live life to the full," which I already have been doing but this time with awareness that I have to take my part by having a healthier diet and positive attitude.
My gentle and calm presence is something I am grateful to say is one of my assets, and it is through these I influence people to live a life free from stress and negativity. It is a gift to be able to stay calm in every situation. It is not always easy. but it is something we can learn as we continue to live each day of our life on earth.
Angie Escarsa is from Olongapo City, Philippines, and has been a Columban Lay Missionary in Ireland since 1999.