I'm going back to the start

First, an explanation: This isn't an account of my entire experience. This is more if me thinking on digital paper, holding a weekend in my hand like a bright jewel and turning it around to examine angles that sparkle brighter than the rest.


The weekend found me in Subic, attending the Singles for Christ Metro Manila Conference for 2013. It was only a few weeks after my Christian Living Program graduation, and there I was, feeling a little out of place in the 3,700-strong crowd, but nevertheless happy to be there.

Our road trip to Subic was long and uneventful, and it was capped by a nice lunch at an Asian restaurant called Coco Lime. I realized I'd never really gone around Subic before, that I didn't really know the place. But the real first for me was my attending the SFC MMC -- or any large-scale religious event after high school, for that matter.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd never really felt comfortable in large group activities, my attention always escaping, straying to my surroundings, then shifting to the activity, and back to my surroundings again.

In group worship, I'd try to sing the songs, clap my hands with the crowd, get into the moment, and then start wondering if I was doing things right: Was I clapping in time, was I out of tune, did I need to I raise my hands? I'd wonder: Why am I not like all the other people, who are completely awash in worship bliss?

I know that none of these matter to the God, but still I think there is always something I can do, to be better, to be part of something big. But I've always been like that: never the person who completely lets go, and always that person who has to open her eyes and observe what is happening to see what else needs to be done. I take two steps forward, and I have to step back, survey the situation, check myself and process my experience. Then I can take several steps forward again.

So, anyway.

For the first night of the conference, the theme was the 90s. We were asked to wear a 90s-inspired outfit. I wore a plaid polo shirt on top of a white T-shirt, dark jeans with the cuffs folded, and black boots. Pop music from the 90s played all day, songs like "Always" and "Quit Playing Games With My Heart" and "Stop" and this girl group song I know I like but can't, at the moment, remember.

Later at night, the music ministry performed a 90s music medley, and the song lyrics were flashed onscreen so the crowd could sing along. Everyone was belting out "And I sing this song to all of my age, for these are the questions we've got to face" when I suddenly remembered myself as a college freshman, sixteen and making sense of my life, discovering what I was good at and what I liked, knowing myself, and following my heart.

And my 16-year-old self looked at my 35-year-old self and asked: Who is this person?

The feeling and the thought stuck with me throughout the evening. The weekend would give me beautiful small and big answers, enough to make having the question hanging over me comfortable. But I am grateful the question begged to be asked, never mind if I had to channel my best version of 90s grunge (my plaid shirt was a bright green!) and listen to some of that beautiful decade's bad hits.

I suppose the way I live most of life is the way I behaved in group worship: I never lose myself completely in it, always stop to look around, and constantly process my experience. At one point in Subic, while everyone around me was jumping around, raising their hands out of overflowing joy in the Maker, I paused and threw a sincere question at God, "Where am I in all this? Where is my joy?"

I need to close my eyes, I thought. And I did. And that's where I found it. It came to me like pictures of my travels to places where I had felt the least out of place. Almost-uninhabited islands. Endless ocean. Clear lakes. Tall, strong trees and swaying grass. Mud on my feat. My hand on cold, solid rock. Birds. A dragonfly coming to me.

So many pictures, and then words. Overflowing words, and I was covered in their richness.

I kept my eyes closed while people sang around me. I was around thousands of people, and I was sure of their ecstasy because it encroached on my senses, and I did not begrudge them that. They had their joy; I had mine. We were all rich. We were all blessed.

It was okay that I was reeling from the sheer number of people. It was okay that I was feeling out of place, like a bottle fighting to keep afloat on relentless waves of joy. It was okay that I swung from exhaustion to bliss, from acceptance to rejection, from yes to no and yes again.

I am this person.

I think a thousand thoughts per minute. My heart feelings a hundred emotions per second. I am scared, and I am brave. I hate being with strangers, but I love people, and it takes only a moment for strangers to become people to me. I have an anxious brain, and I have, I'd like to believe, a good heart. And this last, big reminder-slash-realization: Words are central to my faith, and so are stories. And letters. Words are my service.

I am this person.

I had known this before, in fact, it was the only thing I was sure of when everything else was uncertain, but somehow, somewhere along the way, I had forgotten. I was so sorry I had forgotten.

Be kind to yourself, I told myself. This is how you surrender. This is how you begin. Just close your eyes.