Next to Normal: The Gift That was 2013


This past year was not the easiest. Despite all my Facebook statuses, FourSquare checkins, Instagram selfies, and Twitter updates that seemed to focus only on the good things I was receiving, 2013 was, in real life, a roller coaster ride. There were times when I was so flattened that I could barely stand up. Yes, the travel opportunities were amazing, but there were unexpected challenges that really stretched me.  Several times, I wanted to give up and go home. I almost exploded.

What I realize now is that I have to accept myself and how I react to people and situations. I should not resist this anymore: my uniqueness, my gifting, the way God created and formed me. My brokenness is part of who I am. And I am not normal, although I’ve always pretended to be.  This year, I celebrated my craziness, my OC and bipolar tendencies, and my perfectionism, and embraced them, and called it a beautiful year. Next year (2014), I will use them to create beautiful things and share them with the world.

P1070935 What  allowed me to survive and even cherish the year was how I started it: I went on retreat last March in Tagaytay, Philippines. The bench on the left was my favorite, this was in Caleruega. I sat there for several hours, under sun, wind, and rain, to lift up to God my upcoming gap year, all the uncertainties (which I hated), all the waiting (which I was not fond of), and all the difficulties I knew I was going to face. At the same time, I thanked Him for the opportunity to take a break from a very stressful life and to be in touch with my inner self. I hoped to unleash my creative side as well, and to be healthier, overall. That retreat, although filled with noisy university students, helped me to pray and listen to God.

P1070983One of the people who was very instrumental in this leap of faith is my spiritual director, who deserves an award for listening to me and walking with me through my wounds, burdens, and struggles for several months, while I discerned whether I should indeed give up a good job as a court attorney to take a year off.  Fr. Jordan Orbe, SJ sat with me on my retreat for an hour a day, listening to my prayers, plans, and dreams, and giving me the freedom to face the questions, even without the answers.  I have had a few spiritual directors in life, and each one was perfect for what I was going through while I was with them. Thank you, Fr. Jordy, for the prayers and the help even across the miles.

First stop: Sydney, Australia

I landed on March 20 and my sister saw how exhausted I was. I slept, mostly, so exhausted by all the work I had to finish and all the get-togethers I attended as part of my send me off. In a few days’ time, however, my Sydney family went to Port Stephens, where I experienced an Aussie holiday, and admired some boats.

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Ahh Sydney, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

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I love you for the colorful birds that visit our garden every morning – lorikeets, cockatoos, kookaburras, and others I cannot name , although we have had to limit feeding them as they tend to show gratitude by leaving “bird memories” on the balcony and even the laundry (and everyone knows I am particular about doing the laundry right);

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for the sails that make up the Sydney Opera House, which building I never get tired of admiring from any distance, this year I saw Vivid Sydney, a light and sound show that attracted thousands of tourists to the city, had coffee at the Opera Bar after missing the tour; and watched a concert inside, featuring Idina Menzel, she who sang Defying Gravity, a song that could very well have been written about my gap year, for its message about soaring and flying;

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and I love Sydney for my niece, who is growing up to be a charming, creative, cute, and caring girl; I savored the times I could sing, dance, pray, and play with her, and tried as much as I could to teach her what I could about life and the world out there (tall order, I realized), this is her at the neighborhood park, looking stylish as usual.

There is so much more to love in Sydney. I enjoyed taking long walks, riding the bus and train, meeting the few Sydnesider friends I had in the city, having coffee with guests from Manila, playing tourist once in a while, joining the local library and borrowing as much books and DVDs as I can, tasting the best pizza on my birthday, taking over my sister’s new kitchen, oh, and doing a little consultancy work in Manila just to keep abreast of local news and updates in the legal profession.

I will let these images tell the rest of my story. My next stops were Randwick, the City, Canberra, Hunter Valley, Auckland, Hobbiton,  Melbourne, Flowerdale, Point Lonsdale, Fiji Islands, Auckland again, Melbourne again, Flowerdale again, Point Lonsdale again, Berrima, Bowral, and many other cities in Sydney. Last year, I went to Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. This year, I visited Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. I am not writing a travelogue, but somehow there is something I should write after all this traveling that I did.

I believe these memories are the ingredients to create something from. I was given so much, shown so much, gifted with so much, so I can share them to others. I will remain open to the leading of the Spirit as to where I should go next, and what I should spend more time on next year. But one thing is for sure, I am going home  soon with a bigger heart.

To all those who made 2013 very beautiful and memorable, thank you. Click on the thumbnails to view full photo and to go to slideshow.

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