The Way of Hope

On New Year’s Eve, I sat at my new, shiny marble-topped painting table (a Christmas gift from Felix), staring into my laptop screen. I flitted from Pinterest to Instagram to Photos Library and back again, looking for inspiration, a photo I would paint that would lift off the sadness and weariness I was feeling. I wanted to paint but I felt that both my body and spirit were tired. Minutes ticked by and I couldn’t decide. I planned to do a series of serious painting jobs, elaborate orchids and fruits, at the beginning of 2017, but that night, I just wanted to experience the joy of watercolor. But the moment didn’t come. I felt tired, undecided, uninspired. Like the old year that just passed. I ended up dabbling a parent bear and its cub, tightly snuggled together.

mommy bear and cub

The mommy bear and cub I doodled on NYE. Maybe my soul was wanting to be cherished by my Father in heaven and let Him soothe away all my aches, sickness, and suffering.

That morning, I wrote on my prayer journal feverishly. I remembered the year that was, all the times that I was left behind when Felix and the kids went away: out-of-town excursions last summer, and recently, the Christmas party of our company, Actichem, which culminated in a buffet lunch at Vikings. There were many others in-between – them going out, me staying behind. Like the other years before. In those times, I had felt desolate. But they, too, passed.

While I was writing on my prayer journal, I felt sad, bitter, resentful, and angry all at the same time. There was a lump in my throat as I thought about my life. I covered about two whole pages and although I wrote so many things (mainly about my soul’s bitter complaints), what I can remember clearly now is writing “alone, alone, alone!” Can you feel the angst? (Please forgive me for writing thus, but it will get better. Promise).

HOPE. I was inspired to paint this photo I found on IG, the tiny purple flowers shooting out of the crack of the stone wall, like hope shining over our lives even when darkness threatens.

HOPE. I was inspired to paint this photo I found on IG, the tiny purple flowers shooting out of the crack of the stone wall, like hope shining over our lives even when darkness threatens.

So I sat at my painting table, feeling the weight of my achy, inflamed back and my sorrowing spirit. I saw myself sitting on a rock in the middle of a circle where roads went in all directions with the labels: “patient waiting”, “perseverance”, “persistence”, “do not grow faint in prayer”, “quiet strength”, “steadfastness”, and many other blurry signs, but none that I would like to take at that moment. I just wanted to sit and do nothing.

But I remember begging God to “help me and tell me what to do because I don’t know what to do and where to go from here”. I had tried everything. I had walked each road in that multiple crossroads. Still, I am too sick and weak to walk and travel. And there are still times in the day that I wrestle for good breathing.

 A few hours before New Year, I stared at a framed artwork on the wall with a Bible verse:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

Hope. I still don’t leap in joy, both physically and spiritually. But hope carries me through the days. It carried me through the last hours of the old year to welcome the new year… still faithful to the Lord. When 12:00AM struck and fireworks boomed out of everywhere and lit up the sky without letup – purples, reds, oranges, greens, blues, gold, and silver sparks and lights – I felt the powerful presence of God. I raised my hands toward heaven and praised and worshiped Him with hallelujahs. Nothing can equal His power no matter how much noise we create. It is still His world and I am just a tiny speck in it. A speck He calls by name.

So, I let hope carry me through my quotidian life, especially through the wearying days. The Bible says that hope doesn’t disappoint, although I feel terribly disappointed at times. Still, hope is there in the background of my life, as the mountains surround Jerusalem. It hovers over my head, a sturdy assurance as the heavens above. It is settled and deeply rooted in the soil of my heart forever.

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom. 5:5)

It is hope that feeds peace and joy. Hope that exhales out fears, doubts, and uncertainties, and inhales in invigorating air to sustain and continue life.

I saw myself standing up from that rock where I sat not knowing what to do or think or pray for, and chose the way of hope. I have no huge plans for now. Still waiting for divine inspiration perhaps. Not even words to encourage you, or an overflow of joy to infect you, or a shining light to brighten up your day. But you and I – we have hope. For the coming days and weeks and months.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast… (Portion of Heb. 6:19).

This is what we’re going to do (see Rom 12: 12):

 Rejoice in hope (though sometimes we don’t feel like rejoicing).

Be patient in tribulation (though sometimes we think we have completely run out of stock; God will replenish our supply).

Continue steadfastly in prayer (though sometimes we can’t seem to find the words to move His hand).

 The Word of God has an answer to our every need. An encouragement. A hope.

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Of Christ’s Fullness

I was glad when, a few days before Christmas, I arrived at the Book of John in my daily Bible reading and journaling. This is what I do: I read one book from the OT Beginning at Genesis, then one book from NT, beginning at the Book of Matthew, back and forth. What preceded John was Deuteronomy, so it was law to grace. Unlike Luke, John doesn’t retell the birth of Jesus, but it is equally rich in powerful promises. Walking through the Book of John is like walking through a diamond mine.

GRACE. My original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Serah Loud via IG).

GRACE. My original watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo by Serah Loud via IG).

Full of bright expectations, I was on the lookout for God’s riches in the form of words and promises. And they came, like precious gems sparkling in a dark cave.

And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17)

Of Christ’s fullness we have all received. 

His truth. His grace. His forgiveness. His salvation. His healing. His life.

Yes, because,

…As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God… (John 1:12)

the right

to become

children of God

As the Lord Jesus is, so are we in this world (part of 1 John 4:17). . Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (part of Romans 8:17).

But sometimes, it just doesn’t seem that way. We fall ill. We suffer. We become destitute – of food, of strength and courage, of healing, of deliverance from problems. Dreams are not fulfilled. Longings are not satisfied. We groan. Tears fall.

But all these don’t change the truth: To those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ and who believe on His name, they are the children and heirs of God. We have that unseen treasure, treasure that neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (part of Mat. 6:20)…

neither death nor life

nor angels nor principalities nor powers

nor things present nor things to come 

nor height nor depth…

Nothing and no one shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.8:38-39).

So we suffer tribulation, but in essence, in truth, in reality – we are good. We will be fine.

It is well with our soul.

We are not left behind. We are not forsaken. We are not poverty-stricken. The Lord Jesus said in Rev. 2:9: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)…” Yes, heirs-of-the-kingdom-of-God rich. 

A beloved preacher in our church and his wife came from a wake an hour after Christmas Eve. They were going home to their place knowing that they didn’t have any food prepared for noche buena. So, when they passed by Mini Stop, they realized they were hungry, so they entered and had each a siopao (Chinese steamed bun). The beloved preacher told his wife cheerfully, “So, this is our noche buena.”

While the rest of the Philippines celebrated Christmas Eve with tables laden with food, gifts piled up under the Christmas trees, and carols and laughters ringing out, the beloved preacher and his wife enjoyed their siopao. And they were perfectly fine.

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

When we maintain a “kingdom of God” perspective, we wouldn’t know or see lack. We only know what we have in Christ.

It would have seemed in my last post that all I desire is to go to places I’ve never been and fill up my senses with the things I would see and experience. But that is not what is foremost in my mind. My desire is to do the will of God. I already have a plan set in place: When I’m already well, I will go wherever the Lord sends me to – to testify and win souls.

At the beginning of 2016, I set my life’s theme based on Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I! Send me.”  Throughout the year, every prayer I prayed for my healing, I ended it with, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”

I wasn’t sent anywhere except to my painting table or the patio. Still, it is well with my soul.

A MOST BLESSED, PROSPEROUS, VERY NEW YEAR TO US ALL!

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He Fills Us to Overflowing

I lay in bed with the singing and laughter still ringing in my head. When our family of four celebrates, it is loud. Not that we play music on a CD player or whatever, but we tell stories and jokes and speak all at the same time! We like pranking each other, whether child or adult, it doesn’t really matter. We cherish those moments when we gather together to enjoy food and each other’s company. We are used to celebrating on our own, no guests, and it’s really not a lack.

CHRISTMAS BUNDT CAKE. My original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Natalios via IG).

CHRISTMAS BUNDT CAKE. My original watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo by Natalios via IG).

So, as I settled in bed after quite a long night celebrating my husband’s birthday, I only had praises and thanksgiving to God. These thoughts floated on my mind: He fills us to overflowing! Surely, He has filled us up tonight with good things and more than what we deserve.

For those who have not been tried and who have not experienced the pains and bitterness of life, such celebrations and rejoicing are taken for granted. But not for me and my family. We had known how to have nothing but fear and uncertainty and utter sadness when my sickness and suffering prevented us from celebrating. Or even eating a meal together. In our family, these words are more than a verse in the Bible, but a first-hand experience.

 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (Phil. 4:12)

A villainous voice speaks to my mind, asking how I could possibly say that He fills us to overflowing when everyday, I still go through such difficulties brought by my illness. I still suffer.

But that night that we were drenched with singing and laughter and love, I could only see the goodness of God. I couldn’t focus on the daily hardship I experience, I only saw that our family was happy, period, and wanted to let God know I so appreciated it.

Every morsel of joy I could pick up from under the table, I will thank the Lord from the depths of my heart and soul.

How could I not say my heart overflows when I can eat all the food I want? For there were long seasons when I could only eat a few spoonfuls of runny rice porridge with clear beef broth. Felix savored the beef ribs I baked and ate only them. The Japanese cheesecake (our first-time!), though diminutive, virtually melted in my mouth. The gift I gave to the birthday man, he liked it a lot and he used it right away (I tell you, he’s quite finicky when it comes to his manly things). And the photos we took (there were numerous!) had been kind to me: they didn’t show telltale signs of my illness and suffering, or the warts, or any signs of aging like dark spots.

It’s not really about vanity. It’s about looking and feeling good in the midst of continued illness and hardships. It’s a blessing to look radiant despite the harassment of illness. And I believe it’s all because of Him.

Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed. (Ps. 34:5 ESV)

Just a few days before my husband’s birthday, I was swiping away tears of sadness. For the longest time, I have desired to be able to travel by land and by air. But it’s not happening. If I’d be downright honest, I get terribly envious when I see friends traveling from place to place. And I can’t even go around our neighborhood. Not spitefully envious. Just pitifully envious. Or sometimes, trying-to-be-indifferent envious.

It was a weekend and Felix and I were in the patio talking. I just received a Viber message from my new artist-friend that she and the whole family were going to New Zealand for the holiday season. New Zealand. You have no idea what those two words mean to me.

Most people dream of traveling to America or Europe. I do, too. But when the kids ask me (which they do every now and then) where I want to go when I’m already well, I often answer, “New Zealand.” Personally, I don’t want to imagine going along with throngs of tourists snaking in and out of famous tourist spots around the world, swarming around a famous edifice or monument or museum. I want to go where the crowd doesn’t choose to go.

Like the countryside of New Zealand, where sheep graze quietly on a rolling meadow that just goes on and on to the horizon. I want to experience the quiet atmosphere of a remote B&B accommodations nestled at the foot of a mountain where there is an unobstructed view of fields and fields of flowers. I will set up my travel brushes and palette and just paint the day away. Then visit quaint shops where they sell artisanal whatever that you can never find in malls.

Whisper: I have a private board on Pinterest labeled, “New Zealand” where I collect all my NZ pins, scenes I want to visit and paint. Someday.

Then my good friend told me she’s going there, not for a few days, but the whole holiday season. I messaged back to remind her to bring her travel brushes and paints and told her that I hoped she would find time to paint. The things I had wanted to do. Then tears started to fall, silently at first. But when Felix asked, I couldn’t help but sob. A little.

There are deep longings in a woman’s heart that one cannot seem to reach and soothe. But surely, there is nothing that the Lord Jesus cannot do something about.

These unmet longings, they can either drive us to be bitter or to be more faithful to God and intentionally see what He is doing in our lives and to be genuinely grateful for it.

It is only when we refuse to focus on the things that He is not doing, and instead gather all the crumbs that fall and are there for the picking, that we can fill up ourselves and not be hungry. Ruth gleaned the few stalks of barley the harvesters dropped as she followed them resolutely. At the end of each hot, back-stiffening day, she brought home an armload of barley. And she and Naomi never went hungry.

Follow Jesus faithfully. Bend down and glean. The Lord will never suffer us to go hungry. May it be spiritual hunger, healing hunger, dream fulfilment hunger, joy hunger, physical hunger … He has them all covered.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)

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Remember Grace

One late at night last week while Felix was away in the province and I was alone in our room, the enemy attacked all of a sudden. It started with labored breathing, then my insides shook like when you feel really cold. But my two layers of blanket couldn’t reach to the core of my body to warm it. The shaking and weakness spread to my legs until they seemed lifeless. The twitching muscles made them limp. I wanted to just curl up and let the strange suffering pass, but I couldn’t do that either. I tried to vomit to relieve me, but the shaking inside continued, from my belly, sides, and up to my abdomen. While sitting up, I raised my hand and prayed and begged God to heal me and relieve me of what I was experiencing, then I cast out the demons of illness that were attacking me. I was becoming scared. I lay back on my pillows, put my Bible under me, turned off the aircon (although the room wasn’t that cold), covered myself with my blankets, then forced myself to lie still in a prone position. My heart was beating fast which was making me feel exhausted. There was nothing more I could do but to wait for the mercy of God.

TULIPS IN BLUE AND WHITE VASE. My watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper.

TULIPS IN BLUE AND WHITE VASE. My watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper.

This kind of suffering, in all of its forms and insidiousness, has been a part of my life these past 13 years. There are times I wanted to wave my fist at it, at the unseen demons lurking in space, and challenge them to battle, but what good would that do? I want to pound the demons of illness and suffering to pieces, if only I could see what I am up against. This suffering, it leaves a bad and bitter taste in my mouth that I want to spew out once and for all. If only spitting it out would do the trick.

(My scary experience that night reenforced my perseverance in casting out demons of sickness and suffering in full faith and power and authority in Jesus’ name and not to grow faint and give in to the devil’s wishes).

That night, after waiting out for the shaking to stop and for my insides to settle and my heart to beat normally, it finally came after more than half an hour or so. My heart gradually returned to its normal beating and I felt my whole body warm up. The feeling was almost heavenly and I was lulled to sleep because of the warmth and exhaustion.

There had been such episodes of warmth and peace before, healing moments I call them, when the relief from suffering felt like I was being lifted up from the bed and rocked gently in the clouds to sleep. I remembered them then before I succumbed to a peaceful slumber.

In the morning when I woke up, I remembered the suffering of the night before. In my mind, I gave form to the subconscious thoughts that have always plagued me these many years of suffering so much.

Does God really love me? If He does, why does He let me suffer so much and this long? Is He always angry at me? Unfavorable? Displeased? Why does He punish me so severely and would not relent?

But even as I entertained these bitter thoughts, wisdom was squeezing itself hard into the forefront of my brain, wanting to be heard.

Does not wisdom cry out,
And understanding lift up her voice? (Prov. 8:1)

I listened to wisdom and truth enveloped my whole being.

It is not God who is making me suffer. God isn’t my enemy, the devil is. God, who loves me with an everlasting love, will not do that to me, will not punish me until I am crying out for mercy. He doesn’t take pleasure in inflicting me pain. The devil does.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. (Ps. 103:8)

I took hold of the truth even as it took hold of me. I sat up and raised my hands toward heaven and said,

Father in heaven, in Your name my dearest Lord Jesus Christ. You are a merciful God, compassionate and full of grace. You loved me even when I was a sinner and unworthy of Your love. You cared for me so much You poured out Your love and life on Calvary. You saved me from hell because I matter to You. It is not You who are making me suffer for You are good and faithful to me.

I remember Your grace poured out upon me and I know You love me.

After the storm, the birds come out of hiding to sing. They don’t wave their fists toward heaven and rant why their nests fell to the ground and their young left pitifully as the storm battered and buffeted them. The flowers open up towards the sun slowly emerging out of the parting clouds, greeting the world and their Creator with their radiant faces.

Humans lament and complain.

Remember grace.

Grace poured out upon us beyond measure, more than 2000 years ago, even before Calvary. On a holy, chilly night in the hill country.

10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-14, emphasis added)

good tidings of great joy

peace

goodwill to all men

They all spell G-R-A-C-E.

The spouse, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker hurt you and made you cry because of his/her ill treatment of you? Cry some. Pray big. Fully forgive. Remember grace.

Grace received, grace given away.

Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more (see Rom. 5:20).

Grace is the channel through which all God’s blessings flow.

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On Trudging, Patience, and Gratitude

Trudging through life. That’s exactly how I feel. Being unable to stand up and walk and move normally, with the constant discomforts brought by acid reflux, uncomfortable breathing, fatigue, weakness, and dizziness, my daily life is far different from the life I used to know more than a decade ago, or the lives of those around me and the people I know. It’s hard. Most days it’s like plowing through knee-deep snow (although I haven’t really tried that yet) or clay, where every single step takes a lot of effort and energy.

WINTER. My watercolor painting of a bird and dried up cherries in winter on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Betty Wiley on Flickr via Pinterest).

WINTER. My watercolor painting of a bird and dried up cherries in winter on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo by Betty Wiley on Flickr via Pinterest).

So, it’s like that: I trudge through the hours, days, weeks, and months. It’s like going over a hurdle from the last one to the next, heaving a huge sigh of relief and gratitude in between. One school term to the next. That means a three-month worth of homework and tutoring done and over with. One special occasion celebrated – photos taken, singing and laughters rang out, delectable food enjoyed, smiles exchanged, and thank-yous blown out towards heaven – to the next.

One heavy step after another. By faith. In faith.

I can no longer remember the last time that I cruised through life, breezing from one activity to another and waltzing through one celebration to the next.

That is what I see the people around me do. I find it hard to live and move with the rush and exhilaration around me, that’s why I often retreat to my quiet world where lack of strength is welcome and exhaustion finds rest. Hours of quiet, inactivity and recovery tick away with difficulty, but these, too, shall pass. Until the next activity. That and my deep desire to nurture a gentle and quiet spirit, much like Mary’s. With all the excitement around her with the birth of the Savior and the shepherds paying homage, Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). No stress for Mary!

I hope that I don’t sound like I’m grumbling. I am only trying to explain how it feels like to be me, to trudge through life, and yet, learning the virtue of patience and living grateful at the same time.

True patience is devoid of complaints. That’s why it’s a virtue. It holds the character of a quiet, enduring, and sometimes, sacrificing, spirit. In the KJV Bible, it is called long-suffering and part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:4)

It’s the schoolroom of patience that we become perfect and complete. To run with patience the race that is set before us.

It is through the diligent practice of patience that we overcome, crossing one gulf to the next.

There is no more vivid example of that than in my swimming through the waters of a school term. Every afternoon, I anticipate the arrival of the kids from school. I set aside whatever I am working on, may it be a watercolor painting, working with my laptop, etc., and rest and be ready to welcome the kids. To offer them food when they are hungry, to massage feet when they are sleepy, and most of all, to tackle the homework and lessons. Being a very diligent and conscientious student once, I am the same in tutoring the kids, Tim now, especially. It is a task I don’t want to scrimp on.

You can’t imagine the relief I felt when suddenly – the term is over! And my Tim got straight As. Hallelujah! My trudging has been rewarded, now onto the next. Tim is just in grade 3 now. We have a loooong way to go. But always, we operate with the grace and strength of the Lord with unceasing prayers.

Last Saturday, December 3, we celebrated Tim’s birthday. We only invited 2 of his closest friends from our neighborhood because I can’t entertain people outside of family. I thought that Tim and his friends would just romp around then eat. My mistake. The grandmother of one of the friends came (she is a long time friend of the family), with the baby sister and a nanny in tow. I was in the patio ready to celebrate with the family and I could no longer flee to the sanctuary of my room.

To make the story short, I was able to visit with the granny-friend, took some photos and a video of everybody singing Happy Birthday and Tim blowing the candle on his cake (all of it happened in a whirl, as far as I was concerned, for I was fretting within, being very conscious of exhausting myself). And then had to embarrassingly excuse myself and hastily escape to my room because I couldn’t hold off the dizziness and exhaustion any longer. I was so embarrassed to ride in my wheelchair in front of them all but I didn’t have any choice. That’s what I had been avoiding to happen, that’s why I don’t open our doors to visitors. The nanny was openly staring at me like I was from another planet. Ugh!

But before the evening was over, (for Ate Irene, my neighbor-friend, followed me later to the bedroom where I was resting), I was able to sell her my entire 4-piece original IRIS painting collection, on 12″ x 16″!

I was fatigued but the night had its own rewards. I could forget about the stares when I had to hastily leave in my wheelchair. I only needed to focus on the good part: I was able to visit with a long-time neighbor and see her admire my paintings to the extent that she couldn’t almost make up her mind what to get. That makes me feel appreciated and it somewhat validates my work and gives me a feeling of fulfilment. All for the glory of my Father in heaven!

At the end of a long, tiring day, gratefulness is what is really needed. A grateful heart soothes and smoothes out stresses. It sorts out the lovely from the ugly and focuses and holds onto that. It brings back our perspective to look unto Jesus for He is our comfort and rest.

Gratefulness conveys us to another day, to rise up and welcome the new morning with hope and great expectations. For miracles happen everyday. Just be on the lookout for them.

It is of the Lord‘s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. (Lam. 3:22-24)

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A Wall and a Window

Growing up into an adult, I noticed a peculiar aspect of my personality: I was the kind of person who observed people, even strangers, and try to think about their lives, their homes, their work. I study their countenance, the furrows on the brows, the longing in the eyes, the faraway look, the slumped shoulders, the crinkles at the corners of the eyes when they smile, and I would try to look beyond what my eyes could see. I would look at a woman sitting on a bench, for example, and I would begin to think, “What is she feeling? Does she have a problem at home that weighs down on her heart? How are her home and family look like?” Or maybe an aging man, and these things would run through my mind, “Does he have happy grandchildren that love him to pieces? Or is he longing for the days of old, when life was far different that it is now? Is he estranged from his daughter. Does he long for her?”

WINDOW. My watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo for this painting by Sonja Aric via Instagram).

WINDOW. My watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo for this painting by Sonja Aric via Instagram).

One time, I told my older sister about this peculiarity in me and asked her if she did the same. She said no, she never did that and asked why would I do that?

One day many years ago, I stopped at a busy intersection at a plush village where the wealthy Filipino-Chinese reside. A young boy about 7 years old played on the bars of a gasoline station at the corner. His sampaguita garlands hung at the end of the bar while he played. I watched and drew up this story in my mind: he was a happy boy. Though he was poor, he had a loving mother who fed him, washed his clothes (his t-shirt was shabby but tidy), and sent him to the public school. Tears pooled at the corner of my eyes and I sniffed.

Do you observe people that way, even ones you do not know? Do you look beyond what you see on their facade?

If you do, then you might love to talk with people face to face, too. You want to listen while studying their expressions: the purple spider web veins peeking through translucent skin, how their eyes light up, or show coldness in their depths.

What delights you? People and conversations, words spoken, the resonance and cadence of voices, funny stories and the bursts of laughter punctuating them? Stories that stir up the soul and make you want to reach out to the person and squeeze their hands? To look at the tears that stream down from their eyes and make you want to whisper words, words that, if possible, were drawn from the heart of heaven itself, to soothe that sorrowing soul and stop the flow of tears?

But technology is changing all that. Do people, especially the younger generation, still observe people? Are they learning to study people and learning to empathize in the process? Do we still visit with one another and make delectable conversations without the intrusion of gadgets? 

When the husband comes home from work, does he lounge in his favorite chair, put up his tired feet on a stool and start conversation with you? You have probably been waiting for him and are eager to hear about his day, or he about your day. There are stories to be told, things to be discussed, anecdotes to be shared.

But he opens up his cellphone and launches on a date with the Internet. Or Facebook. He is (more) eager to  browse and read of other people’s stories than his and yours. You get hurt and dismayed.

A virtual wall, as high as the Berlin wall and as wide as the Great Wall of China, is built.

If communication between spouses or the parents and their teens are already strained, the wall the gadgets build could prove to be indestructible. Communication, which is vital in our relationships, would suffer greatly. If people don’t intentionally foster healthy communication within their marriages and families, there is no real growth, both in the individuals and the relationship as a whole. People would not flourish as they should but may get lonely and depressed, or worse, indifferent.

The smartphone, the iPad, or any other gadget that makes one captive, is a sturdy wall that divides us from our spouses and/or families and it is not easily broken down. No, not even with a battering ram.

Do people still talk face to face? In waiting lines and lounges, in the parking lot, in the public market, in the park. Or have we discarded that and bury only our faces in our gadgets? I have seen weird pictures where people in a public place are lost in their gadgets and no one was talking to any one.

Do we want to behold our screens more that the faces of the people in our lives?

In our home, I fight tooth and nail against the invasion of gadgets and do my best to not let the wall rise up to such extent that it’s impossible to scale it. I fight to break down the walls these gadgets are creating and sadly, there has been a lot of tears shed on my part. But I m not buckling down and giving up an inch. If my family had its way, the gadgets would not be put down. But I fight for the old ways. I want to treasure those things that gadgets cannot replace: story-telling and rings of laughter around the table after dinners, heart-to-heart talks between a parent and a child, or between the husband and the wife. No walls. No barricades. No screens.

But even though social media has been abused that we have let it divide us from people, it is also a window to the world in forging new friendships.

There is no clearer example of that than in my life. I haven’t been able to go out these many years. My world revolves around our bedroom and the adjoining patio which leads to a small garden. I have not been receiving visitors except for family members composed of my mother, siblings, and niece. (The excitement of visiting exhausts me). I haven’t relished friendships in the longest time, the way I had before I fell ill. Two of my closest friends now live in Canada. In my whole ailing life, I had considered myself friendless.

That is, until I met a new friend through Instagram. She is a watercolorist like me, except that she is strong and healthy and has a career. We are both moms, about the same age, and most of all, we both love the Lord Jesus Christ. Soon, she was sharing her professional fine watercolors to me, which she has in piles, at cost prices. We began the habit of chatting on Viber and encourage each other regarding our art. She insisted that we meet and paint together. I would have loved that, for she has a storeroom of fine watercolor paints and brushes collected from around the world 😀 . Except that, I can’t travel farther than our living room.

So, we started to paint at the same time but in our own homes using the same model as reference. This arrangement has excited us, pushed us to persevere when the painting gets tough 😀 , and challenged us to do our very best and reach our maximum potential.

Even Felix my husband is happy that I had found a friend, if only through social media.

 Social media can either be a wall or a window. Choose now how it will serve us.

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Finding Life

A Facebook friend commented after I posted photos of In-Cosmetics Asia 2016 held in Bangkok, Thailand, which my husband attended, “You must miss it!” She was referring, of course, to the life I lived before in the world of cosmetic ingredients – glamorous and exciting. And I burst out what I had been hiding in my heart these many years, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, “I super miss it. Sometimes I still feel a painful pinch in my heart when I see photos like this.” That was a portion of my reply.

"GRAPEVINE". My watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper.

“GRAPEVINE”. My watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper.

Later, I thought about the exchange and examined it. Was I really still longing for that old life? Do I still want to go back to it? The answer I got was “No”. I feel a longing when I see photos of the world I used to inhabit, not because I am desiring to go back to it, but because I know the happiness and thrill it brought.

How can one go back to a life in the distant past (13 years) when one is a new person?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

It’s like putting a new wine to old wineskins which the Lord Jesus Himself spoke of.

Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Mat. 9:17)

I have always wrestled with this verse. What is the Lord talking about? But now I get a glimpse of it: A new wine like myself cannot thrive in the old life I used to live, the old wineskin, for after 13 years of walking closely with the Lord, I no longer know how to walk otherwise. Not that that world would be ruined because of the new me, but because I cannot be unequally yoked with it after the Lord has called me for His purposes. I can go, when all this sickness is over, not to work, but to tell of the wondrous salvation from the Lord. To win souls.

But why the longing? Somewhere in the deep recesses of my heart is this wish: I wish that I had known the Lord Jesus while I was at the peak of my career, that I had surrendered my life to Him even then. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have been taken out of it.

If I had known the Lord then and walked in His ways and didn’t make the bad decisions that I made, would I still be there today, working, healthy and strong?

But the saddest thing is – that wasn’t the case. That wasn’t my life. I was successful by the world’s standards, living my dreams, but l was dead in the eyes of God. Let the dead bury their dead.

How deplorable it is to think that there are many people in the world who put up multimillion businesses and have stellar careers, but do not know how to really live.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)

No matter how much we deny it – we do not know how to live apart from Christ.

I knew how to live by the world’s standards – competition,  excellence, devising, etc. But with the way I led my personal life – important relationships like marriage and family, and most of all, a right relationship with the Savior – I was the biggest fool. In business, I made the wisest decisions. But in private life, I acted like I had no brains at all.

I didn’t live in virtue; I lived in selfishness. I was just one of millions who walk this earth in selfishness. The world needs a Savior, and indeed, He has come.

That’s why now, I have life. I live. Because of Him. Now, I can honestly echo the apostle Paul’s words:

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him… (Phil. 3:8-9, emphasis added)

This is what it means when the Lord said to lose our lives. Yes, to lose that life that is not really life but death, and to trade it with the life we find in Him. That is the true life. Everlasting life.

He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Mat. 10:39)

This is pure wisdom: To be willing to lose the life that we adore so much and to find ourselves in Him.

It will be hard for some. They will look back with longing of the life they left behind every now and then. Like me. But not to take the first step to go back to it, but to be able to appreciate how much the Lord Jesus had to give to give us life.

A life that will not cease long after this world has.

This is the life Jesus gives. But many of us are not willing to take it. We want to remain as blinds and fools, not knowing what matters most. We only see the pleasures and thrills the world offers; we cannot see the other side, the side where the King of kings reside. Life and glory forevermore.

But even as we live in the Lord, sometimes we still act foolish and make foolish decisions the same way as the world does. Where has wisdom gone?

For whoever finds me finds life,
And obtains favor from the Lord. (Prod. 8:35)

Sometimes we dwell in coldness and lovelessness. In anger and unkindness. In selfishness. We respond harshly to criticisms that are supposed to help, correct, and improve us. We devour each other even as we call on the name of the Lord and carry His name. Christians.

Yes, sometimes we do not know how to really live, even if the Lord has already shown us how to. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Sometimes we act as if we do not know Him.

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Mic. 6:8)

Oh, man! (Put a crying emoji here). What does the Lord require of us?

Do justly.

Love mercy.

Walk humbly with God.

Do we trample each other and grind each other with our unmerciful words? But didn’t you know, oh man, that —

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. (Prod. 16:24)

Our words should bring life and healing!

The letter addressed to the church in Sardis should serve as a warning and reminder:

I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. (Rev. 3:1-2, emphasis added)

Life in the Lord must be fruitful, not barren. 

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A Palace Strong and Full of Light

A palace strong and full of light. I love this power-packed combination. I pray that my writing of this will be fruitful for you and me. I had written about each topic before, A House Divided Against Itself and All Light {Lessons from the Mount Part 2}. Why am I writing this again? Because I passed through Luke 11 just recently, this time with my KJV journaling Bible, and aside from the fact that I am slowed down by pondering deeper and writing down the Holy Spirit’s message, the passage spoke to me afresh at a different angle this time. The Scriptures does that to us, doesn’t it?

"STONEHOUSE", my original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Inspiration: photo from IG).

“STONEHOUSE”, my original watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Inspiration: photo from IG).

In the many years of my illness, every time I open my Bible, I am always on the lookout for how God’s Word will speak to me in the light of my sickness and suffering. I strain to dig deep and scratch about the words, verses, and passages, like a hen scraping the earth for bits of food, to look for doors through which I can pass to the other side. The side of healing. And thanks be to God, for I believe that, through the years, I have been fruitful in that regard. Although I have not yet received complete healing, I have had enough strength, hope, peace, and joy to go through it all. For that length of time.

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.22 But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. (Luke 11:21-22)

I received another epiphany as I read this recently. We are strong and fully armed when we are at peace with God and constantly filled with the Holy Spirit. For when we are full of the Spirit of God, we walk after Him and not after the flesh. And when we walk after Him, we don the whole armor of God and are protected by it from the fiery darts of the devil. We cannot put on the whole armor of God when we don’t walk in step with the Holy Spirit no matter how hard we try. For it is the Holy Spirit that teaches, guides, and empowers us to do those things that God would have us do:

fasten the belt of truth

put on the breastplate of righteousness

shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace

take up the shield of faith

put on the helmet of salvation

take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God

pray at all times in the Spirit

(from Ephesians 6)

We can only behave wisely in a perfect way and walk within our house with a perfect heart as David himself had greatly desired (Ps. 101:2) when we follow closely after the Spirit. It would be next to impossible to live in love from a pure heart without the Spirit of God continuously sanctifying us.

The passage above further says that when we guard our own palaces, that is, our bodies, the temple of the living God, our goods are in peace. More than our material possessions, these goods mean our joy, peace, family, important relationships, work, businesses, even dreams. And of course, our health.

I have always believed that because of my sins and the bad decisions I had made before I received salvation, my health and strength were stolen by the devil, and with them, my joy and peace. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy… (part of John 10:10). But now that I am in the Lord Jesus Christ, why am I still ailing?

That, for me, is the question of the century :) .

But the peace, joy, marriage, and family that had been stolen were all restored. These goods I now have in abundance. And other good and perfect gifts I have, which I received from my Savior. So, there’s truly been a different kind of healing for me.

When I was yet of the world, there had not been a strong man guarding my palace to talk about. The devil was a lot stronger than me, that’s why he came and spoiled all my goods, even to the point of death. But even that the Lord has utilized for good. It turned out to my salvation and my clinging to Him tightly to this hour.

But even when we are already of the Lord, there are times we can still be weak against the attacker. That is, when we put our guard down. Weaknesses come in. Fears and unprofitable feelings like discouragement, self-pity, depression, resentments, anger, unforgiveness, joylessness, hopelessness grip us and seem to triumph over us. And yes, even our health becomes poor.

Why? Because we have made the attacker stronger than us. We have become weak against him because we have been divided against ourselves. How so? When we have been beholding the world instead of the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we behold the world most of the time, our mindset and affections are influenced by it. And when we are influenced by the world and not by the Word, the Holy Spirit grieves. And when He does, all manner of problems attack us on every side.

That’s why the Apostle Peter admonishes us to:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)

I think that is the root of our problems: when we look back to the world instead of ahead of us where our Shepherd leads. In the world there is endless lusts, covetousness, envying, materialism, superfluity. The Lord Jesus warned:

“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

A united palace is a strong palace. A united body is a strong body.

If we focus our eyes on only one thing – JESUS – our eyes are good and we will be full of light. What wonder!

“The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.” (Luke 11:34-36)

When we behold what is bad – the world (the whole world lies in wickedness ~ 1 John 5:19) – our body also is full of darkness!

When our bodies are full of light, where will darkness dwell? All traces of darkness will flee! We are strong  – mind, heart, body, and soul – and shining brightly!

“Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning.” (Luke 12:35 ESV)

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Journey with Jesus,

Redeeming the Time

In Ephesians 5:15-17, the apostle Paul tells us to redeem the time:

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

We were given the reason why we must redeem the time – the days are evil – and how we go about it: walk circumspectly and wisely and understanding the will of God. When we think of “redeeming the time”, we usually think of the bigger picture: our service to God. Well, for me anyway. That is, until something happened at home that brought me to this.

What exactly is “redeem”? I like what Google gave when I searched for its definition.

redeem: compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something); do something that compensates for poor past performance or behavior.

As I’ve mentioned above, up to this time, I saw “redeeming the time” as more of the task of a Christ laborer, especially those who preach the Gospel and win souls everywhere. To not waste time in spreading the Gospel of salvation as it is the only way to fight these evil days, pushing back the darkness and its works. But when we see it only this way, we tend to think that we, as housewives and stay-at-home moms or full-time career or business people, are not really called to this.

But I received an epiphany today that practicing “redeeming the time” in our marriages, families, and homes is a beautiful moment-by-moment, day-to-day undertaking. It is living a life that is full of grace.

I, with my ailing self, derive strength from the love, peace, and joy that our home and family bring, but most of all, of course, from my faith in God. Each day, however hard it is for me physically, I am renewed, strengthened, and inspired to pursue and live life to the Christ-fullest. That desire alone keeps me awake at night pondering and keeps me on my toes throughout the day. I have that deep desire to truly live out the Lord Jesus’ words and not only a lip service or going through the motions. It is my way of loving Him wholly and honoring Him in my life. A continuous, daily worship.

At the bottom of all this is my belief that being pleasing and right with God is what gives me life and continuance.

…the joy of the Lord is [my] strength. ( Part of Neh. 8:10)

But my heart’s desires and my attempts at living them are affected by my circumstances and the people I do life with. Mistakes, blunders, failures are bound to happen. The aim to walk the higher ground and foster a better relationship with someone for instance, could shatter in a moment’s weakness. Disagreements arise, even a word war or silent war or cold war! In a moment’s time, we could say the wrong word, words that stir up anger or hurt. But this is the good part: we need not stay there! After the words are spoken, the tears are shed, or maybe the door has been shut, or the back has been turned – it is not really the end. It must not be the end.

That is the beauty of grace. We can partake of it as often and as much as we want to. That is the inconsumable grace of Lamentations 3: 22-23:

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

We are given new mercies every morning. Every morning we are renewed, reinstated, and reaffirmed. And if our gracious and merciful Father does it to us every morning, can’t we do the same to each other? Can’t we renew, reinstate, and reaffirm one another in each other’s love, joy, and peace?

Can’t we redeem what we have foolishly squandered?

Are we better at squandering or redeeming?

Do we squander the new day and the new mercies given to us because we are hard-hearted like that? Do we squander them by giving in to our unprofitable emotions: anger, resentment, bitterness, coldness?

No. We redeem each and every moment and every day with new mercies as the Lord supplies us! We redeem the ugliness, the mistakes, the failures with fresh grace.

… Freely [we] have received, freely give. (Part of Mat. 10:8)

We redeem the squandered moments with fresh dose of forgiveness and love and we gather again peace and joy unto our bosom and rejoice together in the Lord. A life of grace is where we thrive, like fish to water, plants to rich soil.

To redeem is to gather again and not to scatter.

Because we walk after the Holy Spirit and live by its fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – tarrying in that place outside of its borders will not be good for us and our health. It’s like fish out of water.

I have a fragile health and I can’t afford to squander my days. I don’t have the luxury of endless days. On earth, at least. That is true for all of us. A stanza of the song You Are My World is a great reminder:

And all my days are gifts from You
I pray I’d use them as You want me to
Use them for You.

Our beloved pastor advises to live each day as if it were the day the Lord Jesus comes. Watching. Praying. Loving. Giving grace and mercy. Rejoicing. Living in peace and joy. Wasting nothing.

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Journey with Jesus,

Trappings

I am fascinated to look at our Church’s mimers’ costumes and observe how they have evolved through the years. It seems to me that every year, they are becoming more and more “interesting”. That is to say, the accoutrements have become more complicated, intricate. There are different mimer groups from outreaches around the country and when they come to the Central Church on special occasions, one would see the diverse colors and designs of their garb. The cut is becoming more meticulous: sleeves flaring out from the elbows like a 360-degree fan, vests covered with sequins, sleeves fanning out from the shoulders down the length of the dress so that when the mimer spreads out her arms, they look like diaphanous wings. Other embellishments include glittering fabrics, floral appliqués, sheer, bright fabric attached somewhere in the body which flies with the wind when the mimer moves. The colors are mostly combination of whites, blues, and bright pinks.

My watercolor painting of white lilies on 9" x 12" 100% cotton wc paper.

My watercolor painting of white lilies on 9″ x 12″ 100% cotton wc paper.

One time I commented to family about this. Then someone asked me that if I were to design the mimers’ costume, what would it be like? When it came to adorning myself, I always knew what I want: simple but elegant. The elegance is emphasized in the sheer simplicity of the garb.

So I told the family that if I were to design the mimers’ costume, it would be made of pure white, flowy fabric, cinched at the waist, then flows down to the ankles in full biased, the sleeves fanning out like wings, and the only color is the wide gold girdle around the waist. (Maybe what was playing on in my mind was the description of the Lord Jesus’ clothing when the apostle John saw Him).

I tend to lean toward simplicity and bring out the real beauty out of that. Especially now that I am a Christ lover.

But recently when I was combing through the books of Moses in the Old Testament, I observed that God has a penchant for a wide array of precious jewels and embroideries of golden threads adorning the tabernacle and the priests’ vestments. He was very meticulous in laying out every single detail to Moses. In my imagination, they were regal to a fault. Fit for a king. So, the mimers’ desire to adorn themselves with such elaborate trappings is just being true to the Old Testament picture. And I smiled.

But I can’t help focusing on the New Testament where the center is the Lord Jesus Christ: the embodiment of simplicity. I close my eyes and imagine myself walking where the Saviour and His disciples walked, even the life of the early Christians after the Lord’s ascension, and I get the overall theme of the time, which was stark simplicity. From the birth of Christ to His death, His life spoke of simplicity. No trappings. Just the pure Saviour of the world, Word became flesh Healer that was manifested for all to behold.

Has God changed then? No. We know that God changes not (see Mal. 3:6). But the physical tabernacle that was described in the OT where God promised to dwell in has become the Body of Christ, comprised of believers where the Spirit of the Lord dwells.

For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.” (2 Cor. 6:16)

We need not adorn ourselves with costly jewels and clothing for the Holy Spirit to come dwell in us. He will abide in the heart of him or her who has wholly received the Lord Jesus Christ and who now walks after Him and not after the flesh.

I believe that the adornments of a Christ follower are now those of godliness: humility, modesty, a worshipful and grateful heart. The truth of God, the grace of the Gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit.

that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. (1 Tim. 2: 9-10)

But, oh. Here’s the sad part: We put on trappings not necessarily made of jewels, fabric, or any other superfluous materials. We put on pride, the inner desire to be admired, liked, or loved, false confidence, even spurious love and service to Christ.

That is why there are some of us who make extra effort to make our photos “like-able”, to make our lives appear perfect (if only on social media). Oh, I know. I am guilty of it on occasions, too. And unless I present myself to my Father in heaven, bare and vulnerable, I would continue doing it, even though only subconsciously. But He speaks, and by His grace, I listen.

It dawned on me recently that these trappings that we put on can be the reasons why fear takes a grip on us sometimes and we feel weak. Last week, when I saw my daisy meadow painting used as the backdrop for the testimony pulpit during a very special occasion in church, I felt so excited my heartbeat became so fast and erratic I began to hypervent and almost fainted. My illness doesn’t allow me to get overly excited or depressed because it affects my breathing. Before that, I was having a hard time recovering from a full lunch (that usually happens). It was aggravated when I saw my enlarged painting.

I uttered in my mind over and over, “All glory belongs to You, Lord”, while doing my best to downplay my emotions. After a while of this and silent prayers, the Holy Spirit spoke in my heart:

You are experiencing this because your first reaction was to be happy and proud of yourself. It is hard for you to sever your emotions from the pure and the sullied and I understand that. But if you focus your heart and mind on Me, only Me, not on yourself or your surroundings, peace will descend and settle in your heart and you will be calm.

Hallelujah! We have a Savior who knows our frailties. Aren’t we glad of that? I am deeply grateful that I am known perfectly of God.

For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

Fear reigns in our hearts when we are not pure in heart. When we put on the trappings of this world and not Christ. The worldly mindset is for us to put on the things of this world to be approved and admired by it. But the Bible tells us to put on Christ.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. (Rom. 13:14)

And we are not talking only of the issues of the heart, but the material trappings that we love to adorn ourselves with. Just because. We make extra effort to put on goodly apparel, even sacrificing simplicity and modesty which we have learned in Christ. He tells us to consider the lilies of the valley…

The Lord wants us to look at the lilies of the valley. Simple and not superfluous.

When people look at us, what do they see? Do they see the imprint of the world or of the Lord Jesus Christ? Do they glorify God because of what they see in us or is the Body of Christ criticized?

And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17)

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Journey with Jesus,