Then Gideon said to God, “If You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken, behold, I will put a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece only, and it is dry on all the ground, then I will know that You will deliver Israel through me, as You have spoken.”
(Judges 6:37, New American Standard Bible)
My friend Timothy, an Evangelical Protestant, didn’t believe in signs. He used this illustration: say I’m torn between eating and not eating. I tell myself, “If I see someone wearing a striped pink shirt, I will eat.” Depending on whether I truly want to eat or not, I would subconsciously either look for a striped pink shirt or avoid the chance of spotting one. Asking for signs when making a choice, for him, is skewed from the start.
As an alternative, he suggested a toss coin. I laughed. So I should rely on chance? He said not at all: once the coin is in midair, I would know what I want. What I want would be what I want to appear when the coin lands. Then, regardless of the result, I would know which to choose.
That was maybe five years ago and I followed this suggestion every time: don’t ask for signs; do a toss coin instead.
In retrospect, aren’t the two methods similar? In both circumstances, I have to choose. If, upon asking for a sign I recognize that I don’t want to see anyone in striped pink, then I would know that I do not want to eat. So, even if I see someone wearing striped pink, I still won’t eat because I don’t want to. In the end, it just depends on whether I follow the sign or the result of the toss, or what I want.
As for me, I have started believing in signs again. Maybe not the same way as I used to in my pre-Church days. I believe in signs that are from God. How can I not? It was through signs that I knew God exists.
Sign No. 1
In December 2014, my life changed. A child could die because of my carelessness. The doctors said there was no assurance the medicines would work: it was too late. All we could do was wait.
This was, actually, what made me return to the Catholic Church after years of exploring and independence. I never really needed God before. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon but I got by just fine. But at that time, there was nothing I could do: neither science nor food provided no assurance she would survive. For the first time in my life, I needed God’s help. Save her, please.
It was the darkest moment of my life. I found myself in the Resurrection Crypt of the St. Joseph the Worker Cathedral and for the first time in years, I was asking something from God. I knew I had no right to ask for anything. I asked anyway. There was nothing else I can do.
Then, I opened my eyes and saw an inscription – a graffiti, actually – on the pew in front of me: Nataniel.
(Yes, without the h.)
I went home to get my things. I was to take the child to the hospital in Manila again for her second series of shots. As I walked out of our gate, a cardboard flew and landed exactly at my feet. It was a cover for men’s underwear: Nathaniel.
And as I boarded the bus, the TV showed a trailer of an upcoming prime time drama that I saw for the first time: Nathaniel.
Three times. Like the number of times Jesus prayed in Gethsemane. Like the days that passed before the resurrection. Like all the other threes in the Bible.
Was this a sign?
I texted my sister: What’s the Biblical meaning of Nathaniel?
She replied an hour later: God has given.
I wept. God has answered my prayer. Me – who thought I was smart not to believe, who ridiculed his believers. And indeed, the medicines worked. The child is alive. If this isn’t a miracle, if this isn’t the work of God, if this isn’t from Him – then what is?
God has given me a miracle when I didn’t deserve anything good from Him. This is the story of how He restored my faith.
He gave me the much needed consolation through a sign: a sign that I might not have found if, in the first place, I didn’t believe in it.
Sign No. 2
A year ago, I was faced with what I consider as the hardest dilemma in my life. It was a Monday in July and I had served as both lector and commentator for the morning Mass. I had been back in Church for barely seven months and have just started reading the Word. (Our parish is blessed to have ordinary Mass at 6 am and 5:30 pm from Monday to Saturday, and seven on Sundays. If only all parishes in the diocese have as much opportunities to celebrate.) The morning Mass had ended and as I was returning the Mass guide in the commentator’s lectern, a nun asked if I wanted to be a nun.
Yes! half of my heart screamed. You see, I had been thinking about it for sometime. I love going to Church. I had been feeling that everything else that I have to do – my work, especially – was a hindrance to my practice as a Catholic, and that if I can, I would spend my whole life with God. (They said it was a new believer’s high.) Just the day before, I told mama, jokingly, that I wanted to be a nun. Plus, I think I would make an okay one, especially if I join the Benedictines.
But the other half was crying because I was taking care of papa and I can’t leave him. He has diabetes. Mama worked far, my sisters were equally busy with their jobs as a nurse and a public school teacher, my brother had just started working to be bothered. I, on the other hand, find fulfillment and joy in looking out for my family’s health. If I left, who would take care of papa? Sister B. said my family didn’t because I was always there.
I was torn: Jesus or my father? My father or Jesus? Why do I have to choose? For others, this shouldn’t even be a matter of discussion. The first commandment says to love God above all else. And it breaks my heart that I can’t leave some things for Him.
The gospel that day was centered on Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (NASB). Harsh, don’t you think? Fr. Peter, who presided over the morning Mass explicitly said: leave everything and follow God.
And so I attended the Mass that afternoon, too, to sort of ask for a second opinion. Usually, being a Salesian, Fr. Jerry’s homilies brimmed with joy. For the first time, I was devastated when Fr. Jerry said the same thing: leave everything and follow God.
I cried. I wept, actually. Then, on my way home, I asked God for a sign: What should I do? I opened my eyes after that prayer. A car overtook my commute and on its bumper were these three words: Just Do It.
In the course of forty days, the same three words popped in the most random places seven times, and twice I saw the Virgin Mary with the message, “Am I not your mother?” I was in despair. I think they were clear indications of what God wants me to do: leave everything and follow Him. But I didn’t because as the forty days drew to a close, I met a man. (We didn’t end up together, just so you know. But I believe he came into my life for a specific purpose, too.)
The signs were clear but I didn’t follow them. Instead, I followed Timothy’s advice: listen to my heart.
And you know what? At times, I still feel guilty for not devoting my whole life to God. But with the thought that God’s will could be where I am going to be happy, I do not regret my decision.
Despite the signs, I know this is where I’m called to do.
There are, I believe, two kinds of signs: one is designed to help you unravel what you really want, the other to deliver God’s message. And it’s only through God’s grace that I got to receive both… when I had done nothing good to deserve them.
So, one day, when I get the chance to talk to Timothy again, I’d tell him: I believe in signs.