The Move to Canada "A Leap of Faith and Renewal
My wife has always been a prayerful person, and this rubbed off to me to some degree. Suffice it to say that I always dealt with situations and rationalized events in a logical manner. Before, rather than saying, "God has other plans for me" if something did not materialize as planned; I would blame myself or the situation for the way things went. Thus, in preparing our papers for migration, I depended more on reason than prayers.
Lo and behold, after four years of waiting, we were advised that we passed the requirements for being permanent residents of Canada and were advised to get the medical exam at a certain date. As we lived in Makati City then, we chose the embassy accredited clinic right beside Makati Medical Centre, the Medical Tower in Amorsolo Street. After two months, we received our Canadian immigrant visas with a deadline for our landing date in Canada as February 2006.
The arrival of the Canadian immigrant visa struck us with surprise. It came much sooner than expected. We thought, ok, the visa may take another six months or one year, as we had warmed up with our other commitments in our respective work environments in Manila. I for one was deeply involved and waiting for the opening of the Philippine wholesale electricity spot market where energy will be traded as a commodity. This was supposedly the first in Southeast Asia, market-based pricing for energy and I really wanted to see it open and operate. I wanted that event to be in my resume.
Constraints on the timing and with our visas expiring on February 2006, we decided to leave for Canada and arrived in Toronto on October 15, 2005.
As it was our first time in Canada, we found the place inviting, organized, clean, and vibrant. We were very passionate of pursuing our plan to re-settle here. Although we have landed then, we decided to leave Toronto and return to Manila one week and a half after. We just filed the necessary documents, like our social insurance numbers and permanent resident cards, opened a bank account, and most importantly, recorded our landing as permanent residents.
Back in Manila, we each finished our respective commitments and reminisced on Canada as being a nice place to uproot and settle as a family. We had only one child, Miggy, who was then turning five, and we said to ourselves, the timing could not be more than perfect.
After several "despedidas" and "wish you well parties" from friends and office colleagues, we managed to return to Toronto in April of 2007, a move that was for good. Our mindset was, no turning back, no matter what!
Our Arrival: Death and Silent Voices
Our journey to Toronto was life-changing, as a person and as a family. The first few changes were not good, as we ran into disappointments, failed expectations, and the initial longing to return to Manila for the meantime. It was synonymous to the need to find the "escape" button when you hit a snag in the computer. We needed to re-boot our life again, trying to restore it to its initial state, as if nothing happened, and everything is good again. Unfortunately, this was not possible, and we had toface the consequences of our actions.
First things first, we had to find employment to survive. We had so much pride and belief in our capabilities that we viewed Canadian employers opening their arms to us, embracing our diversity, embracing our skill and experience. We were so sure of ourselves that it took several more months before that personal optimism turned to pessimism, then fear, then anxiety.
During the first months, we saw ourselves actively sending our resumes on-line. This internet-based job search process was alien to us, because for one, job seekers in the Philippines applied in person, was interviewed in person and was screened and pre-qualified on the basis of a very long and detailed resume. Also, our skills and connections back home enabled us to have bloated egos which continued to feed the pride within us.
We found it very hard to squeeze in all of our experiences in just one-page. Not only did we find it hard, we found it unfair for us not to properly describe what we did and somehow, we felt the need to prove something to prospective employers. I can do the job meant a 15- page resume or more. Selling ourselves through a one pager on-line resume and talking to the Taleo job-engine was grossly disheartening and scary. Sadly, this exercise went nowhere. We were sending out 40 on-line resumes daily. I would start sending them around 9 in the morning until the early afternoon. My wife would do the same after I am finished or within breaks. Thus, sending out online resumes became a full time job, a full time obsession and nerve-racking exercise with the hope of getting a reply from would-be employers or be summoned for an interview in person. Sadly, this exercise was all in vain. We did get a response, sure, but they were all regrets. It was either having no response, or a regret response, same difference! Two months had passed and still sitting at our uncle's home in Scarborough, the thought of returning to Manila was inviting and started to enter our thoughts. The eeriness and quietness of the surrounding made the silence defeaning. What did we do to our life? When you are alone and sitting quietly and in the quietness of the surrounding, you hear voices in your head saying matter of factly that "we made a mistake coming here". We were pressured to seek a place of our own as we feel we are becoming too burdensome for our relative. So we sought out with the savings we had and tried to rent an apartment around Finch Avenue and Birchmount Road in Scarborough. To add further to our disappointment, the Silversprings Apartment manager did not and was not willing to accept our cheque for downpayment because we were not gainfully employed. We had to get a guarantor, which turned out to be our relative. Further stressful was the fact that the apartment cost alone ate up a sizeable chunk each month at $980, $20 dollars short of a thousand. One wonders and pulls back memories of a rent-free life in Manila, and now we are paying more than P 40,000 for a place to stay. In terms of costs and benefits, we are losing, which made life in Toronto even more frightening. Factoring food costs, bus-fares and modest McDonald's occasionally, we were spending our savings with no funds coming in. Good grief! Again the thought, "what have we done?".
We had to purchase a grocery cart to put food stuff in while we walk to the supermarket. We walk to save on bus fare then. However, there was one time when we walked from the grocery to the apartment, in a gloomy and cloudy day. I said to myself, maybe if we walked faster, we would beat the rain in getting to the apartment which was less than a kilometer from Zellers down at Warden and Finch. A few moments after leaving Zellers, it began to rain. As our groceries soaked in rain, we managed to run to the nearest bus stop for shelter. Seeing ourselves soaking wet on a spring day and feeling cold and wet, no car, those silent voices kept saying "what have we done?" You cannot ignore that passing thought of life in Manila, with cars and now this! So where are we at this point, we are in Toronto, with no work, no car, paying rent with no income! Good stuff!
A flicker of light came with a call from a friend asking if I wanted to work as a part-time call center agent in Scarborough for 4-hours daily at minimum wage. You guessed it; my answer was a resounding "sure". I started the day following the call as a call-center agent. My job function was to make "cold-calls" for a burglar alarm company and make appointments for agents. It was easy, follow the script to make appointments, follow the script to answer "no's" and follow the script to close the appointment. Unfortunately, we called at an unholy hour, dinner time, 5pm to 8 pm. You guessed it right; people we called were so mad and furious because they were eating supper. I got several resounding "F-words" and "Go to H----". I told myself, at least I got something - minimum wage for the job description being: to acknowledge "F-Words" and have the cool-headedness and humility to say "thank you sir and madam for your time and we are sorry to intrude". As I was not into the renewal or Catholic community then, sometimes the better side of me was eaten by pride that I end up blurting out our brand of Filipino curse words, which to my surprise was caught in the recording. I had the tenacity to stay for 1.5 months on this job and hang on to it while still sending out 30 resumes per day. One faithful day, I was informed by our supervisor that the product campaign of the burglar alarm company was ended and we were all terminated. This was the first time I was terminated from a job and I did not like it. I walked and walked while in deep thought and found myself in Scarborough Town Center talking to a fellow Filipino, whom I did not know, and opening my heart out that I was fired. I met my family in the town center, and informed them that I lost my job. It was hard, and I never imagined saying it, especially to my family.
The need to find something just to get the cash flow going meant any job at all costs. Our uncle informed us that there was a new Shoppers Drug Mart opening down at Kennedy Road and Sheppard Avenue in Scarborough. We fell in line for a chance to be interviewed. I was applying then as a stock-room clerk, while Malou was filling up an application in the cosmetics department. We were also happy to find out that one of the interviewers was a young Filipino male. To our surprise, that Filipino, though a "ka-bayan" turned out to be arrogant. My interview did not go well. He interrupted me while explaining and belittled my experience. I did not know what to feel then, but maintained my composure. He continued to belittle my experience line by line until I stopped talking and just thanked him for the chance to be interviewed. At that point, I wanted to break this man's ribs. Technically, this ka-bayan was out of line and he was very young, he was just a kid. Realization and pride came in, this kid is insulting me. Again, as I was not in the renewal then, I really wanted to punch him in the face, but the rationale part of me noted that this was Canada, and this person was a Filipino-Canadian citizen, probably, doing that would mean liabilities, so I went about my way out of the interview area. I pulled Malou out of the interview queue and told her that she will just be insulted and maligned. So we went our way. I was fuming mad and disappointed but managed to move on.
My wife Malou went to a bout of depression during this time. She felt sorry for herself, as she too could not find a job. After the call center work, I was able to be hired as a temporary employeeby a business process out-sourcing company, with a $2 raise from the minimum wage and got a slot for an 8-hour job. While I was away, my wife continued to become a full time housewife and continued to search for that elusive employment break, further plunging her into depression. Her depression occurred for a period of 2 months. During this period, I would end up seeing her at the end of the day with eyes still in tears and swollen. It was the summer of 2007, and Miggy would innocently say to me, "Mommy cried all day!".
With the apartment cost and groceries and with pay slightly above the minimum, we were surviving, but deprived ourselves of the usual comforts we had been accustomed too, like eating out, going to the malls and buying stuff, and watching a movie. Everything was so calculated to the dollar. Our luxury was to have a Kentucky Fried chicken on a Friday. That was special to us. Our day was made special with a 2 liter bottle of Coke with our meals. I felt sad and scared and somehow the sugar in the Coke probably added zest. "Coke really added life" as the 1980's commercial went. We seldom ate out.There was one time when Malou and Miggy had to update the information in the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) as we transferred to the apartment. Being new to Toronto, it was easy to make a mistake of going down the TTC bus too early before reaching your destination. To cut the story short, they came down early, two blocks away from their OHIP office destination and Malou threw out the transfer ticket stub in the trash can. Finding out that they needed to ride the bus again to reach OHIP, Malou literally searched the thrash can again to find the transfer stubs just to avoid paying another bus fare. Luckily, she found the stubs still in the heap of trash and was able to use it. On that same day, the delay in the travel caught them in the road during lunch. Being innocent and uncompromising, Miggy wanted to eat at KFC. Malou did not order for herself just to save some cash because this KFC was out of budget. I cried when I learned about this and again entertained the option of going home to the Philippines. I said to myself, we have been away for less than a year, and it would be easy to pick up the pieces left in Manila and start all over again. Fear, disappointment and anxiety ate the best of us and we did not like the feeling.Probably, the Lord wanted to cleanse us and rid us of our pride further and start our renewal as Christians. The biggest trial in our life here came when Miggy all of a sudden got terribly sick. He was having fever reaching 39 degrees and sometimes 40 degrees. This continued for one week. In and out of the walk-in clinics, doctors misdiagnosed his fever as ordinary and continued to give some antibiotics. After one week, his neck became to swell really bad until he could no longer move his neck comfortably. We brought him to the emergency of the Scarborough Grace and I mentioned to the attending doctor that it might be mumps. He was not sure what it was. We were referred to a pediatric specialist from Sick Kids holding office at Scarborough Grace, and we met him in the morning. We were immediately admitted the following day and there was no end to Miggy's fever. Several specialists did some tests and at the end of the day they found the problem. Miggy had "Kawasaki's disease". The doctor was so young, and she was saying this disease. We still had the mindset of specialists being old and mature doctors. This doctor compared to specialists in the Philippines seemed fresh out of med- school. So we clarified further on the sickness and the cause and the treatment. Miggy was to be treated with "gamma globulin" a blood- derivative product. Our only reply was "what"? One question followed another question and we were so confused, scared, disappointed, all emotions overtook us that time. What are we going to do? We managed to talk to a Filipino nurse and she said that the doctor we were talking to was a specialist at Sick Kids hospital, and that she was very credible. But we said, "she is just a kid"! Still we saw ourselves calling our family pediatrician in Manila and made several overseas calls just to learn more. The young doctor at Scarborough Grace was very patient and explained that we should not delay on the treatment. She mentioned several symptoms and signs of the Kawasaki disease which may appear anytime like rashes and further scaling of the skin. We saw this develop the following day, which means that the disease was advancing. So we had no recourse but to believe, pray, and at this point, fall on our knees in prayer to the Lord. We had no one else to depend on but God! The gamma globulin treatments were successful, and upon the first and follow up vials of the treatment, Miggy's condition improved. A few days more and we were discharged. The sad fact though, there was a chance that Miggy's heart may have been affected, as the disease caused the arteries to grow and expand in size. He was recommended to take aspirin for two months, and proceed with an ultrasound of the heart one week after to further test if the arteries did expand. The danger was aneurism.
The heart specialist started to establish an artery size baseline, which needs to be monitored after several months. Our hearts were crushed. Why is this happening? It took us nine years to have a child, and viewed him as a blessing….an answered prayer! We were devotees of Mary Help of Christians in St. John Bosco Parish in Makati. However, this event, we cannot seem to understand.
Our Recovery: The Resurrection to Renewed Faith and Life of Prayer and Discernment In Malou's state of depression, she researched the webpage of Bro. Bo Sanchez called the "Preacher in Blue Jeans". This was referred to Malou by a friend who sought solace in the preachings of Bro. Bo. This webpage and the daily on-line video lectures and stories of Bo Sanchez strengthened her resolve to find a Catholic community here in Toronto. I watched Bro. Bo's videos and was hooked instantly. It was like finding peace and solace in his words through the stories and sharings. The Preacher in Blue Jeans on the web became our ray of hope amidst these trials. Malou explored further and she discovered the Light of Jesus Canada web-page and sent an email to the contact person on the said page. This email was received by Sis. Gay Arcilla. She ended up calling us and informing us of the contact person in Scarborough chapter, none other than Bro. Noli Mercado. Malou immediately called Bro. Noli and inquired about the LOJ Chapter in Scarborough. He informed us that there will be a prayer meeting at his house the coming Saturday. Little that we know, Bro. Noli's daughter was Malou's officemate in San Miguel Corporation.
During our first attendance to the prayer meeting, Bro. Noli told us that he will pick us up at the Scarborough Town Center. We did not really know him personally, so he just described the color of his van and the meeting place, which was just outside of the movie house and adjacent to the parking lot. We spotted his van and while on the way to his residence for the meeting, he gave us the fatherly advice of not losing hope and that everything will turn out ok. These were such soothing words, which we needed at this time. This was also the time when he told us of the 3-stages of coming to Canada - that of passion, death and resurrection. The first stage was passion, all systems go, everyone is dead-set to leave the quiet confines of the Philippines. Death is the second stage, death of a dream because of failed expectations of how life here really is. The third stage he said is the resurrection. You adjust to the culture and stabilize and discover that if you trust with the Lord, everything will be more than ok.
Our first prayer meeting at Bro. Noli and Sis. Jeanny's residence was followed by another meeting and another. Within that same year, we joined the Class 100, Living in the Light Seminar (LLS) and gained a deeper knowledge and understanding of how the Lord works in our lives. As I have mentioned previously, I am not really a prayerful person. In fact, I do not actively read the Bible. Probably occasional reading of Didache, which Malou buys for me or the occasional Bible verses in the newspaper, that was it for me before. I prayed the rosary daily, but found no deeper meaning in prayer. Before, I did not understand prayer as a personal communication with the Lord, and just prayed the rosary as part of the day's process. It was all process for me, and I was missing the content and meaning then. Prior to coming to Canada, Malou was already active in a prayer group, while I stayed away.
Several months after the Class 100, I noticed a very big change in the way I prayed. I slowly began to understand the daily Bible readings, and somehow noticed that it was like God's way of sending a message to both Malou and me if we encounter problems during the day. God was talking to us through the scripture readings. In times of disappointments, the scripture reading would mention about resolve and faith and that of not losing hope. Our prayer became an anchor of hope, a way of clinging to the Lord in faith and hope. We started lifting our anxieties to Him through our individual prayer times. Somehow, we felt good, we felt safe, and we had hope and trust in Him. It was a nice feeling, a feeling of peace, a feeling without anxiety, and the thought that everything will be provided in God's time. In times when we did not get the job after a phone interview, we felt ok and assured that something better will come. Imagine, us, saying, "it was not for me" instead of angry regret. "There are other plans for us" became our mindset. As a person and as a family, we started to view things in a different light. We now see a "glass that is half full" and not a "glass that is half empty". We grew in faith with the Lord. We saw the positivity of things and saw the blessings in every event. As an example of a change in attitude, when we did not get the job after an interview, our new mindset is "thank you Lord for the chance to be interviewed and we know You have other plans for us". Cursing was minimized, and hope and faith covered us in the renewal.
After the Class 100, Tito Bing Buhain mentioned that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will come. It came to me one night. I was praying deeply and somehow while deep in prayer, it seemed that everything turned quiet and I could not hear any noise except my prayer. It was like being in a deep communication with the Lord. I was asking for a stable job one that was within my line. I also prayed for Malou, and that she will also be led to her line. I prayed for stability here in our new home. I prayed for increased faith, learning further to let go and let God lead the way! I did not know if I was dreaming, but when I finished praying, it was like being is a peaceful sleep and waking up in peace.
Something happened to us after that faithful day. A few days after that event, I received a call from Career Bridge. Career Bridge was a program in Canada that evaluated the credentials of foreign trained and educated professionals in business, finance and engineering. I was informed that I was accepted for an apprenticeship program as a project management specialist with Deloitte and Touche Consulting. I said yes to Deloitte and was excited to start. We prayed and thanked the Lord as a family for this wonderful blessing He has showered upon us.
The blessings did not stop with the first job offer. I was also accepted at the Independent Electricity System Operator, the entity that operated the power grid in the province. I accepted the job and ended sending an apology letter to Deloitte and Career Bridge. We continued to thank the Lord for the blessings He continues to shower us. We shared this development during one of the feasts in LOJ while we were in Scarborough. We shared that nothing was impossible with the Lord! Still more blessings came. Malou was accepted in Aviva Canada as a contractual employee, doing her line of work. When her contract was about to expire and she was informed that she will not be renewed, she was given her two week notice. It was unfortunate that she was not absorbed as a permanent employee. God's hand continued to guide us. Three days before Malou's last day, the person that will replace her called and backed-out of the job. Apparently, their person of choice changed her mind. Left with nobody to do the function, Malou's contract was extended further. With that extension, Malou continued to apply online and was accepted in Accenture Canada a few weeks after, and ended up resigning from Aviva. We see the timing of things that happened, and we are just amazed of God's wonderful hand in things that happen! This was truly God's time, God's work and God's will!
We continue to be active in the LOJ community. We went on to join the Marriage Deepening Retreat and Class 200. The community became an extended family, and life of prayer and faith. We now understand the phrase "Let Go and Let God!" We now live it! We were also deeply inspired by the charism of Bro. Bo, his paradigm that "God Loves us" even though we are broken as sinners!
Looking back, our reflections on the trials and hardships we encountered were means by which we were cleansed of our pride and non- dependence in God. It was a process of showing us that these fears had no basis, because nothing is really impossible with the Lord. We fully comprehend this now. We are no longer doubting-Thomases. We have grown in faith. We have learned to let go, fall on our knees, depend greatly of God and live a life of prayer! We continue to learn to discern His will and his directions.
Through a life of prayer, we are being slowly healed of our pride. The group prayer through our caring groups, make us fully aware that we are not alone in this world. We continue to realize the power of group prayer through our prayer intercessor Tito Bing and Tita Angie Buhain. It is really uplifting when a community prays for you. When Miggy was sick, the community prayed for him and his recovery. His arteries were healed of its weaknesses. His heart, which was supposedly affected by the Kawasaki disease became stronger than ever. Last July 2010, Miggy ran a stress test and his heartwas monitored. He was fully healed and fully blessed! In the previous pages we said we did not understand God's plan then and why the Kawasaki disease hit our only child. Now through life in the community, we fully understand that everything is a gift from God, and once in a while our faith in Him will be tested. We were tested, and we have come to realize that we should continue to cling to Him without question and without doubts. Learn to let go, even if it is something precious! What more can we ask the Lord?
We pray continuously for peace in our hearts, further cleansing of pride which still creeps in occasionally in our humanness, and returning God's wonderful blessings by helping others through LOJ's community programs.
We were not prayerful persons in every sense of the word, yet God has designed life changing experiences to make us better persons in faith and prayer! Looking back, after the renewal, I can now invite that arrogant ka-bayan and show kindness amidst that arrogance! Let God do the punching through acts of kindness! God works in truly wondrous ways! He did it to our family and He will do it to you, just let Him in….Let Go and Let God.