Mid of 2009
I was in a situation where I did not have time to embrace the pain I felt; neither could I find a safe outlet for the hurt I was holding on to. The fear that an outburst would lead to gossip, forced me to bury the hurt deep within. I realize now that it was in that moment, and the lack of peace thereafter, which extinguished the candle burning in my soul.
That Sunday after, I remember having to wake up and drag myself to church, asking God, “Why did You do this to me when I was preparing to “seal the deal” with Your faith?” I was a walking zombie that day. School followed, and I just never got the courage to speak up about it. I guess, I felt that it would be easier for everyone around me, if I just kept quiet and pretended it never happened. With the exception from the silent nightmares that crept up, it was like it never did.
So, I got confirmed and left the church right after. Whenever people asked why, I would just say it was because none of the ministries appealed to me and nothing pulled me back. For 5 years, I believed in that statement too.
Initially I was extremely reluctant to attend the Combined University Retreat (CUR2014). I kept testing God, which was wrong of me, but yet He passed every test. He even blessed me with the gift of my friends Daryl, Vanessa, Darren and Nick to have fellowship with which took away the uneasiness I felt. It was the first retreat I had ever attended and I was honestly not used to spending hours each day seated on the floor with my aching back, listening to the speakers’ teachings and sharings. I struggled to focus. But then, something along the lines of “the more distracted you are, the better, because it means that God is very close to you and the evil one is trying to distract you” was mentioned. So I persevered, and forced myself to note down everything that struck me, for further reflection.
Fast forward to the night of Day 2 and it was time for Reconciliation. I have a love-hate relationship with Reconciliation at camps/retreats as compared to at church before mass. At retreats, I get to look into the eyes of the Confessor as I admit my sins. And yes, I have always loved the extra time of advice and time spent with God through the Confessor, but it would always leave my heart feeling completely exposed. It felt like I could not even hide from myself, because my faith has taught me that to honour this sacrament, one has to be completely honest. While standing in the confession queue, I broke down. I strongly dislike crying in front of other people, but the environment felt so safe, so comfortable. That was when healing begun. During confession, Father asked me a question, which I left unanswered because I was too emotional to focus and think straight. He ended by asking me to visit one of the prayer groups.
Roberta Marcia Thomas (pictured in grey) with friends during the retreat
Again, before I could chicken out, I forced my feet to carry me to the nearest available prayer team. They opened my heart, peeled away the fear and insecurities, and dug out the pain and hurt, ever so patiently and full of compassion. The words of Matt Redman’s I Will Offer Up My Life’s; – “In surrender I must give my every part, Lord receive this sacrifice of a broken heart” is perfectly apt for my experience of healing that night.
The focus of Day 3 was on Joy. I visited one of the prayer teams and they prayed for me, to receive the gift of Joy. They told me to have the courage to look at Jesus through the Eucharist displayed in the Monstrance and my eyes never left. The words, “The time for mourning is over” still plays in my head daily.
After that session, I was weighed down by the intense fear of having to leave the premises of OYP. It had felt like a safe house, away from the troubles of the real world. Neither did I want the spiritual high I felt to fade. I shared this fear with my cell group and their words are something I strongly intend to hold onto for a very long time. They advised me to make simple resolutions which I was comfortable in keeping. They reminded me of the certainty of knowing that God is with us. And that prayer, any time and any place, helps. I was also reminded that community is key and I am ever so grateful for the people He placed in my life.
On the last night in a moment of spontaneity, I approached Father Jude for a chat. The words I rambled on about felt wrong and out of place. Yet, he invited me to spend time in the prayer room. Prior to this, the thought had never occurred to me. And so, after washing up and much procrastination, I went to the prayer room with a hesitant mind. I did not know what to do, but a dear friend who had reminded and encouraged me to go, also suggested grabbing my bible and notebook. So I went in and prayed. And then I just sat there and waited.
In surrender I must give my every part, Lord receive this sacrifice of a broken heart
I did not know it at that point of time, but I was waiting to feel certainty. Despite being in the habit of sleeping at about 10pm every night, I was wide awake from about midnight til 2am, just resting in His presence and journaling everything that was on my mind. And then I felt it in my heart. The certainty the God loves me, that He will always love me and protect me, all of the days of my earthly life. I gave thanks, leaving the room with a smile on my face and a fire burning brightly in my heart.
Day 4 came and our daily mass was celebrated by His Grace, Archbishop William Goh. I remember my first thought upon seeing him was “How does this guy manage to look exactly the same every single day. He looks just like this in all the pictures.” I know it is a bit of a shallow thought, but it brought a smile to my face and sparked a curiosity to know more about this man who so graciously leads the church in Singapore. The calmness and gentle smile on his face, coupled with his extremely lovable personality warmed my heart. During lunch, His Grace somehow ended up sitting at the same table. Looking back, maybe our faces looked like we needed the most help. Jokes aside, so many questions popped into my head but, the fear of sounding dumb kept me from voicing them out. However, acting on a brief moment of impulse, I went up to him and asked him these 2 questions.
What makes you happy? “Being able to love people.”
What are your hobbies? “Loving people.”
His answers came so easily without hesitation and with arms extending to everyone around him. Never fails to warms my heart when I think of how blessed the church is, having someone so full of love to give, as a willing servant and strong leader.
OYP has done so much for me through this one retreat. I have been blessed with the gifts of Peace, Love and Joy. That is a debt I can never repay. To end off, I would like to express heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in CUR2014, from the organizers, to those part of the intercessory team, to those who blessed me financially and to my fellow retreatants. Thank you for providing a safe happy environment that was a spiritual hospital for me.
Have a God-filled life, my dear friends! May He bless you with that same Peace, Love and Joy that He did me!