As a civilian, I have taken for granted what our countrymen in uniform give up from their personal lives in order to serve our country. For every corrupt or infamous government servant, there are so many others who faithfully do their duty at the expense of family life.
Col.Thelma M. Borromeo (or Ate Thelma to friends) was a USAF (United States Air Force) School of Aerospace Medicine-trained Philippine Air Force flight nurse assigned within the country: Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao.
“Inililipad namin ang maysakit at sugatang sundalo at (We fly the ill and wounded soldiers, their) dependents, and authorized civilians from areas with limited medical facilities to better equipped hospitals nationwide.” Aside from flying duties, a military nurse serves at the same time as nurse administrator, educator, and community health advocate, but always, a professional soldier. When the kids were younger during vacation time, they stayed where she was assigned. But when they entered school, this was not possible anymore.
The sequence of priorities is: 1. God, 2. Mission, 3. Family.
During her tour of duty in the Southern Philippines for three years, she would work three weeks away from her family and spend a week with them at home in Manila. The three to four times a month 24-hour duty entailed hospital and flight duties during the day, and being on call at the Nurses’ Quarters after. “I used to sleep in my uniform so in case of an emergency, I would just put on my smock gown and head straight to the hospital.”
One time while the children were with her, they started the night sleeping together in one room. During the night, there was a call for normal delivery. In the military, there are protocols that allow trained nurses to perform normal deliveries and resuscitation of the newborn while the doctor on duty attends to the more difficult cases. “My daughter who was then nine years old, woke up around 2 a.m., reached the hospital in her pajamas and ended up outside the delivery room. She asked me if I could leave the mom who just gave birth and her newborn baby since the midwife was there. It looked to her like I was prioritizing the patients over her. That thought got stuck.”
Before her son entered college, her husband died and Ate Thelma became the sole breadwinner for her family. By the time her kids graduated from college, “may sama ng loob sa akin ang mga anak ko. (My kids had a grievance against me). At first, I was not aware na meron akong pagkukulang (that I had inadequacies); I thought I was doing a good job as a mom. My son told me, “Ma, pinabayaan mo naman kami (Ma, you neglected us).” My daughter said, “Ma, ang talagang mahal mo, yung mga pasyente (The one you really love are the patients). In their minds, I am their mother and they are the ones that I should be taking care of) “Why do the patients come first?” “ Yung sama nila ng loob, hindi ko maintindihan at hindi ko inunawa (Their grievance, I couldn’t comprehend and I didn’t seek to understand either. In my mind everything I was doing was for their sake because I love them.)
My children’s hurts intensified. We were not happy. Sometimes my daughter’s attitude seemed to me like I had a lion inside the house. Her tone of voice and roar came across to me like, “ You’re my mom but you are not worth talking to.” There was a hardness of heart towards me. I felt I had done my best. I asked God, “I was the most obedient and kind among eight living siblings in our family, why is my life like this?” I was self-righteous then. I felt God was making me reflect on myself. At first I couldn’t accept that I was part of the problem.
One Sunday in 2004, my son and I brought my daughter to the bus station (that will take her to her boarding house). We saw CCF and attended the morning service. Pastor Peter (Tanchi) preached on forgiveness, and urged us to read the Bible cover to cover every year. “I realized…how could I ask for forgiveness when I am not willing to accept my fault?“I got led to the Golden Ladies Discipleship Group.
I learned a new style of biblical priorities: 1. God, 2. Family, 3. Ministry.
I can’t remember a specific verse but during one of my quiet times reading the Bible, it became very clear to me. . .God impressed upon me to ask forgiveness from my children. Ayoko (I didn’t want)! I did everything for them. Since my husband died at 49 years old, everything was for them. But the prodding of the Holy Spirit to ask for forgiveness was strong and persistent.”
One day, my daughter and I were at home. I told her, “Anak, palagay ko meron akong mga pagkukulang sa ‘yo. Pwede bang patawarin mo ko? Hindi siya umimik. Umiyak na siya no’n. Yung dati niyang katigasan, nag-melt. Hindi na s’ya sumagot. (Daughter, I think I have faults against you. Would it be possible for you to forgive me? She was quiet. She cried. Her previous hardness of heart melted. She didn’t reply.) That moment, her elder brother arrived. He sensed something was going on and asked, ‘Why?’ I told him too, ‘I think I have wronged you. Kung ano man yung pagkukulang ko, patawarin mo ako (Whatever my faults, please forgive me.)”. They did not say, ‘Yes, I forgive you,’ but I saw the progressive improvement. We would go together to church. There was change. The heaviness and hardness in our relationship slowly faded away. We spent time doing family devotions, we spent time together enjoying one another’s company.”
Ate Thelma continued to learn and apply God”s principles through her weekly Bible studies with the Golden Ladies Group. When she was required to retire at fifty-six years old, she could have explored another career path but instead of going ahead of God, she wanted to discern His best will. He showed her through her Bible readings that what was more important was her children. She decided to stay home and be near them as God gave her another chance to be a better mother to them. “Kahit na parang chimimay ako sa bahay, okay lang. ( Even if I am like a glorified maid at home, its okay). I know that is what the Lord wants me to do.”
From her Bible Studies, she was able to teach her son the principle of leaving the home and
cleaving to his wife after the wedding. “ The leadership of my son as head of a new family would be usurped by me if we stayed under one roof. He will not bloom as head of his family, nor his wife as his partner.” They asked me, ‘When we have kids, can you take care of the kids?’ I told them, ‘Taking care of one’s child is a privilege. You see our life? My assignment moved us from place to place but I was the one who took care of you. It’s a short time that you’ll be with your child, for they grow fast. If you give that (privilege) to me, your child might not recognize you as the parents-the one in authority.’ So that became clear to us early on.
“God also showed me that I could connect to the older ladies through the Golden Ladies Ministry. One day before my retirement, the gospel was presented at COC (Camp Emilio Aguinaldo Officers’ Clubhouse) to the AFP Chief Nurses through “The Life Lessons Seminar”. This was in coordination with Cata de Jesus and her D12 [Discipleship Group]. I was so happy because they all received Jesus as their Savior. After that, I officially retired from military duty. We presented the same seminar mostly to the health personnel at the Philippine Navy, Army, Air Force, and the Presidential Security Group, Malacanang.
The talks were tailored towards their needs such as “forgiveness” or whatever would minister to them. However, nobody signed up for the Bible Study classes. But last August 2014, retired Brigadier General MAA “ called me and asked me to help her get closer to the Lord.” (Received Christ Dec 10, 2004 at the Philippine Navy Life Lessons Seminar, tried to read the Bible by herself ). Ate Thelma has been journeying with Ate Amy since.
I asked her favorite verse, her reply, “ I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”.
I asked, “How would you like your children to remember you”? She said, “Na sila ang mahal ko”(That they are the ones I love). God gave me a second chance to become a mom kasi pumalpak ako nung una (because I blew it at first).
According to Ate Thelma, “It was by God’s grace alone that I was able to submit myself to the Ultimate Authority, Jesus Christ, whose commission is for humility, forgiveness, and reconciliation with my children. This made way for healing and restoration in my relationship with them.”
Though it was she who has a position as colonel, as mother, she used her position of leadership just as Jesus did… to wash the feet of His disciples, to be a servant leader. Not only did Ate Thelma get a second chance a being a biological mother; she also had the opportunity to be a spiritual mother. Even as a senior citizen, Ate Thelma is also able to minister to other “golden ladies” that they though they surpass the age for childbearing, they too may be fruitful to raise up younger women in their faith journeys. As God’s servants, there is no age limit to fruitfulness.