During that toast by the President of the United States, I was born.
I was born to Puerto Rican parents, who happened to be Seventh-Day Adventists. My father was and is a leader in the church, often preaching about the prophecies of the Second Coming and of the Book of Daniel. He's a church elder who takes pride in our faith and actively studies the Bible. All in all, he's a good man and I try be to the way he taught me to be. Is he perfect, well no nobody is. Often times, he gets pretty mouthy and he'll put in himself into situations that he doesn't want to be in. He grew in very poor circumstances and has this old conservative way of thinking. He's a bit rough and his views on certain things tend to upset me, but he's got a good heart. He's a cross between Archie Bunker and Zorba the Greek. Deep down, he's a man of God and practices what he preaches. All the morals I have learned, all the positive traits I have, all I can ever hope to be I owe to him.
My mother is a different story. Like my father, she also grew up in very poor circumstances in Puerto Rico. She grew up Adventist, but she did not have a concrete foundation in the word of God and did not have a deeply rooted faith. That's mainly due in part to her parents (my paternal grandparents) who didn't teach her the ways of faith. My mother never really cared for church growing up and even when she went with us, she never really enjoyed it. She only went with the motions. Faith was not important to her. The only thing she cared about was materialistic things, which unfortunately for all of us turned into disaster. She wasn't a good parent to me or my sister. She always nagged at us saying we were too overweight, too unattractive, always criticizing, but never encouraging or loving us. It's difficult to say anything positive about her.
So here's the story with me. I grew up in an Adventist household, I was not raised with the principles of the Spirit of Prophecy, but I raised according to what my parents knew. At times, home was full of gladness and the love of God was felt there. My father used to read bible stories to me and explain things so I would understand. I remember the friday nights, he would be preparing for a sermon and I'd ask him what he'd be preaching about and he'd tell me by telling me to get my bible and study with him for a little bit before retiring to bed. With my mother, her role was rather small. She merely took care of me and my sister when my father was away at work. My father could never spent a lot of time with us because he would have to work on Mondays thru Thursdays from four in the afternoon until four in the morning, the weekends we had him all to ourselves.
My childhood was a happy one, despite certain moments of sadness. Everything was going fine until High School. High School was a waste of four years I'll never get back. Every day of it was a day of hell. I never had any real friends there, only acquaintances. I was made fun of constantly because of the way I looked and deep down it hurt. I really suffered in high school, but that was nothing compared to when I came back home and received more and even harsher criticism from my own mother. My mother said things that made me want to physically harm her. "You're too fat," she said, "you need to lose weight." My mother never said anything positive to me while I was growing up so with that, I began to wear black clothing. It got so that every piece of clothing I had worn was black or dark colored.
I took the emotional abuse as far as I could until one day, my mother said something that just made me snap. I then said a form of profanity against her to which she was shocked. I then began to hurl insults at her to damage her emotionally. So from then on, each time I came back from and my mother would say something that would arouse my anger. I let her have it. We hurled the worst insults to each other, wounding each other in the process. While this was going on, my father never really knew what was going on because of the work hours. He had to sleep during the day in order to work during the night. Whenever I did have the chance to speak to him, I never could because I felt he would never understand. After all he was always athletic, while I never was.
As my internal suffering was increasing, my love and faith in God was decreasing. I began to hate Him for bringing me into a world that didn't appreciate me or love me. Even at church, I found no love among my own relatives and nobody there seemed to care at all. With no emotional support, I began to despise God for making me unattractive, giving my a horrible mother, and a terrible and worthless life. I felt that God was cruel to me and I often cursed Him. In Sabbath School, I began to make the other classmates doubt God, just to insult Him. Oh yes, I really hated Him. If that wasn't bad enough, I began to doubt the existence of God. I felt if God was real, he could have made my life better.
As the high school years drew to a close, I uncovered a dark secret about my past. One that would change my life forever. I found out that my parents had been divorced seven years prior to my discovery. They had only stayed together for me and my sister, for appearances sake. This was a devastating blow to me. I thought about all the vacations, we took in my childhood. All the positive times we spent together. It was all fake. What was the point of all this? I confronted my mother on issue and with my father, I told him gently that I knew. Since graduation was approaching, I told both my parents that I would be attending the ceremony, but I did not want them there. They were hurt, but they respected my decision.
I then went to the graduation ceremony and wondering what was ahead of me. "What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I have nothing to live for now." I remember wishing that my existence would cease. I remember asking God to take my life from me. What else could I do with my life? As far as I knew, my life was over. I then looked for work and found a job after a year, but after working for two months and nine days I was fired and rightfully so. With no job and the continual battles with my mother, I felt I had nothing to look forward to. The impending separation of my parents unavoidable, but I didn't allow myself to think about it. Did I ever think about suicide? Yes, I did on several occasions since high school. However since suicide is a sin and despite my negative feelings about God, I could never bring myself to do it.
Then in 2005, I befriended a pastor and his wife. They were kind to me, but I had my doubts about them. Due to the emotional damage, it was hard for me to trust anyone. The wife did her best to really show the love of God and I always rejected it. Later, she told me it was as if there was a darkness hovering over me. The demeanor I had shown to everyone was that of darkness and negativity. She told me of a youth congress, to which I initially hesitated to attend. However, with the situation, I wanted to get away for a few days so I eventually accepted. While I was there, they had many religious seminars throughout the day, but I went to one that changed my outlook of life. The theme was "Healing for Damaged Emotions", which was led by an Adventist chaplin. During the seminar, I finally began to see a God of love. The Jesus he spoke about was real to me. A Jesus who really suffered emotionally as well as physically. A Jesus, who like me, felt forsaken, abandoned, betrayed, and alone. This was a Jesus I could finally relate to. Since I had no one to hang out with, I was not distracted so God finally had my attention. I remember praying alone afterwards thanking God and then asking Him what he would have me do now?
On Sabbath that same weekend, there was a preacher by the named of Pastor James Black, who was preaching, I remember he was looking in my area and said that I could make a difference for Jesus and that I should get up and do something about it and at that very moment I felt a calm feeling come across me and I knew then right there Jesus was calling me to spread the word and at that moment as tears were coming down my face and my body felt at ease and I felt that it was my calling to do great things for Christ. I also got to meet people from different churches and different backgrounds. I made new friends and established deep relationships through the spirit of God. I still remember that Saturday Night (the last night of the congress) after the events had ended where we had a vigil with, I think it was about 8 or 9 people all together and all of us gave our testimonies and shared past experiences with each other and we stayed up the entire night, until seven in the morning, but I'm sure that we all felt the spirit of God there, working through us, inspiring us, and since then, I have gained a deeper understanding of God's Love. I came home with a feeling of gladness since I have not felt as a boy when my father read the bible stories.
On Monday, I was invited to attend a prayer meeting so I went and as I shared my experiences at the youth congress and I mentioned the experience of the seminar that I attended and a friend mentioned that I should preach it as a sermon. I then laughed, saying "There's no way I'm going to be speaking in front of the congregation." I was afraid of getting up in front of audience for any reason. I had not done so before in my life and was not about to try it.
The next day, I was writing what I remembered from the seminar so that if I had a bad day, I could read it and feel at ease once more. It then developed into a sermon. In the process of writing (actually I was typing it) I had received an email from my cousin Marlene, who was then the head of the Youth Department, saying that she wanted to "present a special program" with those of us who attended that coming Friday night to present before the congregation our experiences at the youth congress. I don't know how it happened, but I found the telephone in my hand and I attempted to call Marlene. When she wasn't at her house, her youngest daughter gave me her work number to which I then dialed. She picked it up almost immediately and I mentioned to her that I wanted to preach that night. She was genuinely surprised, but she that it would be and that I would be the last person to speak since it would be a sermon.
I then practiced and even called my pastor for guidance and he prayed with me. Finally, Friday night came and after everyone had given their testimonies of the youth congress, Marlene then gave introduction for my sermon. I was so scared and in the moments before my time to speak, my cousin Amy whispered, "You're up." I remembered Marlene saying in Spanish, "So it is with great privilege to introduce to you Manuel Ortega, Jr." I then went up and after a quick silent prayer and I then spoke about my experience and the words I remembered from the seminar. I preached about the Jesus who suffered emotionally, that was betrayed abandoned, forsaken, yet was never alone. During the sermon, I noticed there were a few members who were crying, even the pastor's wife. I later understood that it was the Holy Spirit working in their hearts.
After I finished my final words, I then closed my bible and as I went to go sit down, Marlene came up and hugged me. For the first time, in many years. I felt loved not only by others, but also by God. Afterwords I began read the bible differently and began to think about becoming a pastor. My life certainly did change after the time of the youth congress and feel that maybe I suffered for this so that perhaps I could help bring others to Jesus with my testimony.
Now my family life didn't get better. My parents eventually separated and I went on to dorm in Fitchburg State College where I am now residing. I am convinced that if I had never gone to the youth congress, I don't think I would be alive now. For two years, I have gone through situations and have made mistakes. I have done things that I am not proud of. After all, I'm only human and I'm not perfect either, but that's no excuse. So what happened? Well, my father remarried. He's happier now than he was with my mother. As for my mother, she also remarried, but for money. I don't keep in touch with her often and I do see her from time to time. I don't expect her to change, but I'll try to forgive her.
So all in all, I thank God for my life, it's ups and downs. I sincerely hope that one day I'll be able to share my testimony with others so that they can be blessed. I honestly still don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life, but I know that I want to be a blessing to others and change other people's lives. While I know I'm not perfect and I still feel that I need more maturing for my life. I pray that God will guide me and that I will be motivated daily to serve Him and that one day, I'll find my purpose here on earth and so until then, I'll keep searching.
I have not hidden anything from you (the reader). By myself, I'm still not a good man, but I want to live with a good God. I don't excel in physical strength, but the God I believe in is All Powerful. I may not have the mental capacity to understanding certain things, but I believe in a God that knows everything and can give me wisdom if I ask.