A tragic incident in our lives can wound us, debilitate us, and even leave us scarred for life. But no matter how sad an experience may be, we have the power to transform these events into inspiring stories that can give hope to others.
Inspirar, a long-running series of talks organized by Exempli Gratia Foundation, invited speakers who shared how they rose above their individual personal adversaries and transformed these experiences into priceless life lessons. The talks were aligned with Inspirar’s aim to change negative conversations—online and offline—in society into better ones through sharing extraordinary stories of ordinary people.
The first edition, held in February at the SMX Convention Center in Taguig City, featured the story of Joy Tan-Chi Mendoza, Xyza Cruz Bacani, Father Edgar “Garix” Abucejo, and Vice President Leni Robredo.
Joy is a mother of five children; daughter of Peter Tan-Chi, senior pastor of the Christian church, Christ’s Commission Fellowship (CCF), and the author of When A Good God Allows Rape published by OMF Literature.
On the other hand, Xyza is a domestic helper-turned-photographer whose works have been featured in various international media publications. Fr. Edgar is a parish priest who rode his motorcycle from his town in Eastern Samar to Manila right after typhoon Yolanda to seek help in behalf of the victims in his province.
Here are some of lessons to be gained from their inspiring talks:
Vice President Leni Robredo: Returning to our truths
Undergoing grief due to the loss of her husband Jesse Robredo, VP Leni shared that an important lesson she learned was to go back to her truths.
She said, “The most important lesson I learned, not just in my long career as a public servant but also as a wife and a mother, as a daughter, and as a Filipina is this, ‘When tragedy darkens our doorstep, when difficulties arise; we must go back to what truly matters to us. To what we are willing to fight for, we must always return to our truth, and keep it close to our heart. You see, adversity is one of life’s constants. Loss is a fact that we must make peace with.
“In my darkest hours I fought my way back to the truths I knew well; the same ones that Jessie and I defended. The truth of the love we shared as a family, and the truth of our love for service to our country. Doing these help me focus on the causes that Jessie and I had always championed,” she added.
Joy Tan-Chi Mendoza: ‘Choose to forgive’
When she was 15 years old, Joy was raped by seven men who also robbed their house. Having grown in a loving and religious family that was actively involved in their spiritual community, Joy was confronted with questions about God’s goodness in her life after the painful incident.
To move forward, she was also faced by hard choices she had to make—these were choices that can make or break her.
Joy shared, “And so I had to ask myself ‘what choices am I going to make moving forward?’ And I remember this pain I had, it’s like something was taken away from you that can never be given back. And it was a very deep pain. It really did hurt and I was like ‘Lord what should I do? Can I still believe that you are good?’
“This was one of the questions I had to ask myself. And it’s so tempting in difficult situations to interpret your ideas of God based on circumstance. I was tempted to think, ‘If God is good, If He really loves me and our family, why would he allow something bad like this to happen to us?’ But I praise God because you know my parents have thought me the bible when I was younger. I went back to the promises of God.”
“I had to separate myself first from the emotional pain and think ‘Lord, I’m going to choose to believe that you are good, that you are sovereign, even if I don’t understand. Even if I don’t feel like it right now because if I don’t, where would I go? So I said I will choose to believe you. I will choose to still follow you.”
Another choice Joy felt she had to do was to forgive her perpetrators. Reminded of how God sent Jesus to the world to die for the forgiveness of our sins, she decided to also forgive.
“If Jesus gave his life for me and he forgave me, then who am I not to forgive?That reality changed my perspective completely. We are all broken people. We all need forgiveness, and so with the same forgiveness that I received, with that grace, I said, okay Lord, ‘I’m going to choose to forgive these people.'”
“When you choose to forgive those who have hurt you, God could turn everything around for good because he specializes not in band-aid fixes, he specializes in healing.”
Joy did not stop from just forgiving; she also chose to tell her story with the aim of giving hope to others.
“So I thought, I can either stay a victim or I can choose to be a victor and one of the we can choose to be victorious is not to be ashamed of our stories But to use them to help others.”
“I realized many people they go through life carrying the burden of their stories. I come alongside women I tell them, ‘You know what happened to you, if you were raped, it was wrong no matter what the circumstance is, no matter what the situation. But I want you to imagine the day when you can come alongside other women, and you can encourage them with your story because this is not the ending..'”
Fr. Edgar Abucejo: ‘Be the light’
Right after super typhoon Yolanda struck Eastern Visayas, Fr. Edgar rode a motorbike, and traveled to Manila for three days to seek help in behalf of far-flung towns in Samar that were heavily devastated by the calamity.
Having been a witness to how the strong typhoon ravaged towns and left people hungry and cold, Fr. Edgar recalled a question from a church goer on whether Yolanda was God’s punishment.
“‘Father is it true, na ang Yolanda ay parusa ng Diyos?’ Totoong pumapasok sa isip natin ang ganitong mga tanong. Totoong hindi maganda ang sinapit namin. Sa parokya po sa Matarinao, nasira po ang kumbento. Nawalan ng bahay at mga mahal sa buhay ang mga ilan kong nasasakupan. Sa Guiuan, nandoon yung mga kapatid ko, nasa isang bahay. Nahagip ng bintana ang nanay ko. Parusa nga ba ito? Alam kong makasalanan din ako pero mahal ako ng Diyos. Ito ang paniniwala ko kapag marami akong pagaalinlangan.”
“Ganito ang ibig sabihin ko sa pagiging bukas sa pag-ibig ng Diyos, yung hindi matigas ang puso natin para sa kanya, yung hindi takot ang naghahari sa atin, yung hinahayaan siyang mahalin tayo in good and bad times according to his ways.”
While traveling from his parish in Maritanao to Guiuan, he saw the extent of damage in different towns, and at the same time, was able to witness how the people were helping each other.
“Tumatak ang ginawa nila sa puso ko. Nararamdaman kong unti-unti akong umaapaw.
“Maari ngang nasa atin na lahat ng pasanin sa mundo but it is good to know that there are those who choose to go beyond their personal life concerns and enter into the troubles and darkness of others. If you do that, you become light on the lamp stand. Sabi ng ating Panginoon ‘You are the light of the world.'”