Hope for the New Year

Hello, dear ones! I trust that you had a wonderful and blessed celebration of our Savior’s birth with family and friends. Our family was so blessed to have a quiet Christmas at home. I was strong and inspired enough to plan and do a few last-minute decorations and table settings with the help of the kids and our two househelps. Did you feel like our to-do lists are way bigger than our capacities and time allotments? I did but didn’t dwell too much on it. There were things that were not done on time but it didn’t really matter. To be a slave of tasks and time is one thing I can’t subject my frail self to.

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So, the cold Christmas season has brought fresh perspective and inspiration to my heart and soul as I await the coming year (a big “thank you” to all who leave me messages of love, hope, and kindness that really encourage me). Yes, my heart is filled with abundant hope, even amid my existing health situation. The Lord is faithful to let our hearts and hopes go on and on and on. He is the One who walks with us and sees us through every season. Even when we are weak and don’t seem to know how to fire up our faith, He remains faithful all throughout. Hallelujah!

I am so inspired to meet the new year with plans for more of the things that would bring purpose and meaning to my life. No, not more tasks that I wouldn’t be able to complete anyway, but more motivation, more determination, more focus, more purpose, more intentionality, more dedication, more heart, more discipline, more courage. <Exhale>. That is humongous, but you know what? Before Christmas, I found enough courage to let myself into projects that, though they might tire my body, will bring more life, more vibrancy into my ailing and weak self. What I’m saying is that, I don’t want my illnesses and sufferings and fears to be sovereign over my life. I want God to be.

This coming year, by God’s unceasing grace, I would like to focus more on the ff.:

More Purposeful (More Living)

I had written a while back about living just a fraction of a normal life, what with sickness, suffering, and a fraction of a person’s normal strength. My days are dotted with long pauses (rests) to recover from hard bouts of suffering. Often they stretch to an hour or two, a few times a day. Sometimes, I don’t have appetite or determination left to rise up at all and do something productive. At other times, I just want to defy them (the difficulties) and rise up even if I haven’t fully recovered and do something fulfilling, like watercolor painting.

I realized that’s exactly the problem: I’m not consistent. Sometimes, I muster enough courage to stand up against the nasty bullying of my sickness and suffering, sometimes I give in piteously and accomplish nothing.

Now, I’m inspired enough to plan my days and pursue that which will bring color and fulfilment to my days and life with determination. I’m praying that I will be able to follow it through.

More Fruitful

Our fruitfulness is what we can show for our salvation. It’s what the Lord requires.

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:8)

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit shouldremain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. (John 15:16)

It can’t be that we are followers of Christ and yet, there are no fruits of it in our lives that others may see. We may soak ourselves in prayer and the Word everyday, we may attend church religiously, but if change is not seen on the outside, what good is it? Our internal transformation should flow over the surface. The way we live life (our motives, words and actions) are the fruits of our faith and love for Jesus.

Just the peace and joy we have inside and are etched on our faces and seen in our eyes is already a solid proof, the fruit of living by and walking in the Spirit. They are infectious and affect others.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

So, for me, more of joy, thankfulness, patience, grace and kindness for 2018 and beyond. Grace is love beyond self, shown in choosing humility over pride and forgiving readily.

It’s growing in grace (see 2 Pet. 3:18). When we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we bear much fruit. There can’t be bearing without first growing.

More brave

I never imagined that fear and courage could exist at the same place and at the same time. My illness and suffering brings me indescribable fear that I will never get used to. The attacks scare me so much that sometimes I tremble inside in utter fear of how in the world I could come through each one alive. But it is the same illness and suffering that has made me so brave and courageous to fully trust in God in the midst of it all. I myself marvel at how I could be so brave through it all, for it’s a pure, unwavering trust – naked and raw.

To trust God with nothing but our faith, His Word and His testimonies to hold onto is scary. We can’t see or touch anything. Everything is invisible. But that is faith.

I am not brave outside of my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is my brave, my courage, my strength. So, if I want to be more brave, I need more of Jesus in my life. More of Him, His Word, His teachings and promises. You see, my physical sufferings have brought trauma in my life. It is this trauma that makes me afraid to step out of my comfort zone.

When the disciples were scared because of the winds and waves that buffeted their boat while the Lord slept soundly, He said to them, “Where is your faith?”

He’s saying that, if we have complete faith in God, we should not be afraid. (I wish I could tell my heart and nerves that when suffering attacks, or when I’m anxious or worried).

I pray for more vibrant life and purpose, more fruitfulness in the Spirit, and more courage to step out in faith for all of us this new year.

Sharing with you some of our Christmas photos:

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I Will Be Faithful

I imagine moving my #4 sable brush on the paper, imparting a blush of bright pink with dark, very vivid red peeking under the tightly-closed petals. The peony buds, perfect rounds of loveliness – they bring joy and inspiration to my heart in this season of painful hoping and waiting. I think about painting them, and of the already open blooms in the darkest of reds — maroon is what many people would call it, but in my palette, that would be Alizarin Crimson — and my oft-tested love and faith are somewhat soothed.

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I think of gliding my brush, anticipating the buds to take form, the red reminding me of my love for the Lord Jesus Christ that I had just renewed recently amid another hurt, another reason to slump on the ground, weak and defeated. But as I looked, and looked again, at the black mass carpeting the floor beside the bed that were my fallen hairs, I steeled my heart and declared – “I will be faithful to You! I will stick and continue with You. My strong faith in You must work on my favor” – as if my heart wasn’t near fainting and being discouraged beyond hope.

But I couldn’t allow my heart to be discouraged beyond hope.

Those traces of reds, they remind me of my wounded heart in my hand, but still wholly proffered to my Lord and Savior. I will give it to Him over and over, no matter how battered, no matter how much it’s hurting, no matter how much it’s been tried and tested.

Would the Savior that bled on the cross to make me whole break my heart? My spirit? Would He wound my hopeful and faithful heart with His silence as to my healing and deliverance from my sickness and suffering? Would He deeply hurt me by just looking on while the devil does its pleasure on me?

Would my Shepherd who promised many wonderful things in His Word allow me to be wounded like this?

Whatever is in His heart, I am not deserting Him. There’s no other place to go.

He asked Peter and the other disciples if they would also go as like the many who were offended by Him and deserted Him.

“Will ye also go away?”

Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)

To whom shall I go? To whom shall you go?

He is the way, the truth, and the life. Or have I forgotten this in the midst of my pain?

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)

Painting the peony blooms and buds is the only thing I can do, amid the hurt and apprehension, to remember the Savior’s love, that love that was poured out on Calvary, rivulets of crimson that flowed from countless wounds and hands and feet where thick nails were driven through. I cannot for now rise up and proclaim a renewed battle against the rulers of the darkness of this age with all might and power that I don’t possess. I can only be still, and know that He is God. I can only let myself be carried in His big, capable hands until all these things have come to pass.

And I will be faithful throughout.

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In His Time

When I saw their picture together – relief, joy, and the dawning of happiness etched on their faces- I cried. I cried in joy and in a sudden gust of hope and inspiration. That kind of hope and inspiration that breaks through the hard, rock-encrusted trial (at least for me). I rejoiced with them in my spirit, not only because I was really happy for them but because their picture is an embodiment of a dream come true. A prayer answered. I rejoiced because God was showing me there is still beauty, hope, and light in this dim, suffering-laden world.

One of my practice paintings 2 years ago. Notice that I still hadn't learned the technique of shadowing between flowers.

One of my practice paintings 2 years ago. Notice that I still hadn’t learned the technique of shadowing between flowers.

Belle came to work for us in 2004. She is my husband’s cousin. She became part nanny and part caregiver. There was a time when she was bathing me: she was bowed down, concentrating on rubbing my feet with the soapy towel. I felt so touched by the sacrifice that I gently touched her head and said, “Someday, the Lord Jesus will bless you and reward your love and sacrifices.”

Not long afterwards, she found work abroad as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) with better compensation. When she transferred to Hong Kong, she became a choir member in our church’s outreach station there. Later on, after years of working in Hong Kong and serving the Lord faithfully there, she found her lifetime partner. They came home and got married in Belle’s hometown in the province. It was a simple, yet lovely wedding. Belle was a pretty, radiant bride.

Her husband (also a young OFW) returned to his work in New Zealand while Belle stayed in the province waiting for her petition to follow him. It was quite a long separation and there were a few difficulties in processing her papers. She spent the time cooking and selling meals in front of the school. She was also a faithful companion of my newly-widowed beloved mother-in-law. They attended church together regularly.

But at long last, Belle finally flew to New Zealand and be reunited with her husband. The photo I mentioned above was taken when they met each other at the airport: eyes shining, smiles breaking forth across there faces without reserve.

And I cried. I cried for the sheer joy of dreams fulfilled and lived. Of hardships overcome. Of love triumphing. Of perfect health and new beginnings and bright, shining tomorrows. Yes, I cried and rejoiced even if they weren’t my own. There is hope in the world. There is hope for each one of us who loves the Lord to pieces.

In His time.

In His time, He makes dreams come true. In His time, He heals all our diseases and binds up our wounds. In His time, He makes all things beautiful.

Everything Has Its Time

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born,
    And a time to die;
A time to plant,
    And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
    And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
    And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
    And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
    And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
    And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
    And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
    And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
    And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
    And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;
A time to love,
    And a time to hate;
A time of war,
    And a time of peace.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecc. 3:1-8, 11)

So, hold on to your faith, dear ones. Better things and better days are yet to come. Amen and Amen!

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The Lives We Live

I stir in bed. I know it’s nearing noon, I need to rise up, but my body wants to linger a little longer under the warm sheets. I slept at around 4 this morning, all night long my left leg wouldn’t relent. Of all nights! The discomfort in my legs was more intense than usual last night, it felt like it reached to the marrow and it was hard to sleep. The kids left for school without stopping by. Or maybe they did but found me fast asleep at last. I stretch and get ready for my morning devotion, my eyes roaming around the still-dark room (the undrawn drapes block out the sunlight). On my marble painting table sit the two white orchid plants, a huge 50-piece yellow rose bouquet, and a basket of flowers and fruits. They certainly make the room lovely. And although I have not (yet) received the answer to my fervent prayer, looking at the beautiful flowers make me feel blessed.

This was just a very quick dabble as I have been on bedrest for the past 2 days, but I will do better next time. Promise.

This was just a very quick dabble (using up remaining paints on my palette) as I have been on bedrest for the past 2 days, but I will do better next time. Promise.

Yesterday, alone in my room watching the live streaming of our church’s worship service (hubby and the kids attend church; the kids sing in the choir), a courier delivered a pretty basket of fresh flowers (that included dark pink sweet peas) and fruits. While the maid talked to the courier, I was wondering who would be sending a package since I didn’t order anything. When I saw it, then I remembered. The wonder of it all is that, I always manage to forget about these yearly gifts a beautiful and beloved sister in Christ faithfully sends on my birthday for over half a decade now. So, I am always surprised! 😀 And she lives in Kuwait! And we have never met in person.

But she never fails to make me feel loved and blessed no matter how hard I’m going through. Bless her beautiful soul!

Then last night after midnight, Felix left the room and came back carrying two potted blooming white orchids. They are so lovely I almost couldn’t believe they are real. On his second trip to the garage, he came back carrying a huge bouquet of yellow-gold roses.

“Oh, these are so many! What, 36? 48?” I asked, thinking about all the numbers divisible by 12 😀 .

“50, of course!” He answered. Fifty yellow-gold roses for my 50th birthday. Of course!

“Happy birthday, mahal.”

Today, Monday, October 2, is my birthday. Beginning the first day of September, I prayed a special prayer: that I will receive the gift of my healing. But nothing changed, in my life and in my body. Maybe in another day or time, I would have been deeply hurt. Why is the Lord Jesus so quiet in that regard? But not today. Today, I will not dwell on hurts or self-pity or discouragements. Today, I will do my best to celebrate and be happy.

Later in the afternoon when the kids arrived from school, I managed to wash my face and brush my hair for a decent picture-taking. Honestly, I just wanted to sit in front of the camera and let it capture what it could. Let it gather all the stories my face, my body, my head would be telling. I wanted my picture taken to share with friends on FB and IG but I didn’t want to “embellish” a perfectly happy and contented facade I wasn’t feeling or carrying somewhere within me. What I wrote on the caption was this:

Sometimes there are so many things- different stories and themes, reasons and motives, thanksgivings and praise – that one would like to say, but time and space and words may not be adequate, so one would think that it’s better to say nothing at all.

If a picture can tell all the battles won and still fighting
If it can reveal how many walks through the “valley of the shadow of death” there were
Or if it can explain the joy that pierces through like a ray of sunshine slicingthe dark, menacing clouds
If it can express all the melodies and lyrics of a song of praise and thanksgiving ithat have enlivened the soul in spite of
If it can show all at once all the hopes and fears, all the desires, longings and despair, the unwavering faith and sometimes tottering perseverance and courage
Then let it speak and the words need not be written.

But one knows that it cannot.

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My family.

My family.

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I often wonder what my life might be called. A half-life? Thinking that I’m not living on normal health and strength. But even that moniker is not correct. For my strength is not even half the normal. What would a life that operates on a fraction of strength and a slew of indescribable and scary physical hardships that is far removed from the normal order of things be called?

Sometimes it feels like it’s all like a child’s play. The things I strive to do to show the world I am living a wonderful life in spite of – it feels like they are not really real or complete or normal. Like I am an alien  trying to live on earth like any other human does. But I know that mine is entirely different and I feel like an “outsider”. They only see that I am sitting there on a sofa with a smile on my face, sporting a light makeup and wearing new clothes. What they don’t see is the wheelchair that brought me there and how hubby and kids scamper to make me comfortable: electric fan directed towards my face, sandals put on my feet, hair fixed, etc.

Or when I take photos of my “teascape” and share them on IG. They only see the pretty tea set and the inspiring caption, but they don’t see the hands that washed and put them there. The hands that assisted me while I sat and waited. A child’s play.

But my behind-the-scenes role as a wife and a mother is downright real. I pray hard and pound on heaven’s door for my family just like any other healthy Christian mom does. My writing/blogging and watercolor painting life, thank God, is also very real!

I hope that I don’t sound like I’m whining, because honestly I’m not. I’m just trying to share and explain how hard life like mine is. I could use the word “difficult”, but it doesn’t say anything except that it’s difficult. But when I say it’s hard, I may be describing a hard wall, a hard ground, a hard place, a hard situation, a hard hand, a hard deal.

But in the hard, I beg the Lord (just as much as I beg for my healing) for fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit. For what is a life without fruit? In a desolate land, in the wilderness, one could still be fruitful. And maybe even more so. Because in the wilderness, one’s bread is the Word of God. It is the manna that one gathers each day for one’s sustenance and growth.

A fruitful life is the Word of God lived. Each and every day. And that is my light, my encouragement, and my hope.

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Gratitude and Wonder

I have had more excruciating suffering bouts the past week but I won’t distress you with them. What good would that do? You know what I’m going through and how I cling to my Savior and Healer. I am thankful that joy adamantly adheres to me in spite of the suffering, a staunch ally against it. And I can still see the wonders of everyday, because you see, I have learned to look for the good and the beautiful in the mundane, interspersed with the sufferings, like a bird foraging for food to fill its hunger. And because of that, gratitude still abides in my heart, by God’s grace. For if we can no longer see and appreciate the goodness of God in the land of the living, how can we praise and thank Him? How is He lifted up and glorified in our lives? For we have been created for His glory alone (see Is. 43:7).

gratitude and wonder

Freesia – a painting from early last year.

Another thing, ungratefulness is a fodder for bitterness. And bitterness makes one wretched, one thing the Lord has mercifully taken away from me.

And so today, I will tell of His wonderful works. They may be just small and simple to deserve gracing a magazine, but to me, they are glimpses of my Shepherd’s love and care.

Wonder

The Snow Globe

Felix and Tim went to Shangri-La Mall to buy me silk flowers and toiletries. They came home with my silk roses and peonies and also bottles of floral bath creams – Lily of the Valley, Rose, Freesia, and Blue Porcelain China. Whatever the scent of that last one I have no clue. But the surprise was Tim’s snow globe. He came home carrying a snow globe that he insisted, yes, insisted, that his daddy buy. Tim knows that I have been longing for a snow globe for the longest time (I didn’t know that they are sold here considering that we don’t have winter season).

So Tim showed the snow globe to me and I shared his awe. The inside is a bird perched on a branch and the snow is not plain white dust but they sparkle, like minute glass shards reflecting the sun in its fullness or a star-studded sky in the heart of winter. We both celebrated our finally having a snow globe as we stared at it with the snow falling like magic.

He left it on my book shelf and tries to remember to shake it when he comes to my room for my delight.

The Vending Machine

A machine that vomits soda, coffee, snacks, and even packed sushi and ramen (in Japan) I know, but questions? One day, Tim told me he has a vending machine of questions inside him. He says that when he cranks up this machine, a question rolls out of it and into his mouth, hence, his many, many questions, so myriad I sometimes tell him he’s tiresome (I guess that’s another thing that adults do :( ).

“So, don’t wonder why I have endless questions, Mom, coz I have a vending machine of them inside me and I can’t stop them from spilling out!”

The Piano Duet

During the kids’ school break, we finally found a piano teacher to do private tutorials (they had to stop for a  year as we looked for a good music school nearby but couldn’t find one). During the lull, they both turned to learning and playing the uke. They are now both adept with it. But Felix and I wanted them to continue learning the piano. The private tutorials are proving to be successful. When cousins from San Diego came to visit in July, they had at least learned a duet and entertained our guests after a sumptuous lunch of seafoods.

One night recently after dinner in our dining room (for years we ate in our bedroom extension on a 30″ by 40″ table), they practiced their new duet. Felix turned my wheelchair around so I’d be facing the piano. So, there we were, our family gathered in our living room as music played in our home once again. I relished the moment and gratitude filled my heart, forgetting for a time (though short) my hardships.

Gratitude

The Buyers

I’m blessed by the buyers of our online thrift store via IG. For my American readers, the Philippines is an archipelago, that is, a group of islands scattered all over the country. There are three main islands – Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao. Luzon, especially Metro Manila, is the heart of the country. It is the main island. It is where the big cities, hotels, shopping malls, businesses, skyscrapers, best schools and universities, and all important government offices and agencies are found. In the US, the states are like small countries in and of themselves, and one can settle in any and still be “in”. Not in the Philippines. As I have already mentioned, Metro Manila is the heart.

In the other two islands, Visayas and Mindanao, they also have cities but they are mostly known for their world-famous beaches and resorts. And although the Philippines is just a fraction of the entire USA in size, those two other islands are quite remote to us who live in Metro Manila and its outskirts.

Imagine my surprise and delight every time people from those places buy from us. They are women – wives, moms, singles – wanting a share of our merchandise, or more accurately, they desire to make their homes beautiful and surround themselves with pretty things – teapots, teacups, porcelain plates, vases, and my paintings! It doesn’t matter to them that they pay shipping fees of courier services, and that, there are some who live too far away from the city or town that the courier service doesn’t even reach their place. They would drive 2 hours to pick up their packages from the nearest branch and another 2 going back.

I’m blessed because these women are like kindred spirits. We all want to make our homes beautiful. I hope and pray that even in this way, God is glorified.

The Paintings

It brings me so much joy and fulfilment that my paintings are appreciated and bought by our IG buyers. Framed originals and gallery wrap canvas prints alike are bought and ordered and I have also began accepting commissions. Oh, please don’t get the wrong picture. I’m not busy as a bee for I. Can’t. Do. That. I only paint when I am well and just for an hour or so. But still, these things bring meaning to my life and I only have the Lord Jesus Christ to thank for.

One time as I was staring at a work-in-progress painting of a pink rose bush, I whispered a prayer: Lord Jesus, though sometimes I err and have shortcomings, please don’t take this away from me.

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Of God’s Love and Warmth and Fuzzy Blankets

Over the many years of being sick with constant suffering, I found out that one of the hardest things to do is to rest and sleep without being hounded by fears, to trust that when I lay down my weak and ailing body on the bed, nothing bad will happen or that the discomforts will not get worse or the suffering intensify. You would want that your bed would be a haven, a welcome respite from all the hardships. But for me, it hasn’t always been that way. There were months over the course of my illness that I had feared my bed, that it had been a hostile place to be rather than a place of rest and recovery. And so, I had tried other rooms in our home, including the dining room and the garage (inside the Astrovan) to try to find that place where my body could find healing and rest.

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My lilac from last year, recycled for my blog theme. I haven’t found time to paint lately. But by God’s grace, I’ll be starting a new rose bush project one of these days since I had sold 5 of my original, really serious paintings. Praise the Lord!

I thank my dearest Lord Jesus that with the partial healing and recovery that I have received, those fears and anxieties fled, too. I don’t fear my bed and our room anymore. No matter how hard the suffering still is sometimes, I have learned to keep still in my bed and trust that God will all be God for me: my Savior, Deliverer, Healer, Comforter, Protector, Shepherd. And remember that though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for He is with me.

I have learned to really rest in the Lord. Doing that is really trusting Him to the uttermost, truly believing that He is mighty to save, yes, to save from the attacks of the enemy the devil. Trusting that my times are in His hand and He will fulfil the number of my days, that He will make my healing spring forth speedily and with long life He will satisfy me. Remembering that with my faith without doubts, he can and will perform miracles. And these words of His, His powerful promises, they are real and they are life.

With the healing of both my spirit (from the terrible bundle I used to write about) and body (partial) came also the sweetness of yielding my sick and tired body to the comfort of my bed, the softness of my pillows and the warmth of my blankets. I use throws during the day, two are tapestries (one of them with the names and titles of God from A to Z) and one is soft and furry. Before, they only served to make my body warm and bring it comfort. But lately, they have evolved into being a warm invitation to rest, to snuggle in, and yes, to even feel the sweetness of my Lord Jesus in them, believing and feeling that He is embracing me and loving on me through them. To be able to relish that sweetness and comfort – I am truly grateful.

I think this desire to find rest between the sheets began after watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. It was about a little girl sick of cancer who was very brave all throughout her illness and taxing treatments. One day after coming from the hospital, her mother brought her to her room, a pretty attic room with floral wallpaper and dormer windows overlooking the trees in the yard. Her bed was covered with a beautiful quilt, looking like every piece and thread was meticulously sewn in love. And on this quilt, the girl laid down her tired body with a smile on her lips, curled up on her side, and acquiesced to a much-needed rest and sleep.

I have always thought about that. It was only a movie but it spoke to my heart. The trust. The sweetness. The hope that everything will be alright. For our Lord Jesus promised to make all things new. And that He is with us always.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

(Ps. 139:7-12, 17-18)

I don’t have a quilt that is lovingly pieced up and sewn, but I do have a Laura Ashley quilt cover that is strewn with rose bouquets and vines. By its loveliness I feel God’s love reaching out to me, that I am completely known, loved, and cherished. I know that it’s just a quilt, but if our hearts are full of gratitude, even that is a beautiful gift for our bodies to rest on.

I also stopped using woven blankets that are rather stiff and rough and itchy to my skin which add to my discomforts. Something whispered to my ear that flannel blankets would be a comfort. And so, I began using flannel blankets, soft and fluffy like clouds :). In all these, though just simple things and not the miraculous kind, I find rest for my body, mind, and heart. While I wait for sleep at night wrapped in fuzzy warmth, I think about the Lord Jesus’ tender mercies and compassions that never fail. They feel like a warm embrace.

These feelings and thoughts, they are gifts. They are vital to the faith and hope that I hold fast in my heart.

(I have been purchasing Laura Ashley beddings from Amazon at about half the price. I also get new, branded flannel blankets from local IG sellers at thrift prices, the likes of Valentino, Royal Copenhagen, Nina Ricci, and many others. The thrift price I’m talking about is of the $5-$20 range. Overall, I consider the comfort, joy, inspiration, and beauty all gifts from a loving, generous, blessing God! My heart is full and I am overwhelmed with gratitude).

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Of Tables, Teacups, and the Workings of God

There is something so wonderful, almost magical for me (whose standard for happy is as simple as feeling good physically and not having a hard time) when I go to our dining room now to eat with family. It’s been over a decade since we used our dining room for everyday and now that I am so inspired to go there, it feels special every time. As I have already mentioned in a previous post, our Italian oval dining table with three chairs, which I thrifted from an online IG seller, is small but just perfect for our family of four. It looks inviting and, just as our mobile table which is stationed in our bedroom extension has been (it’s still there), this lovely oval table is fast becoming a gatherer. Oh yes, tables are gatherers. Of people, stories, love, laughter, conversations. Of the hungry and the weary. Of the one who seeks, who wants, who longs, who needs.

This was really a super quick dabble as I am not feeling well and need to get some really good sleep.

This was really a super quick dabble as I am not feeling well and need to get some really good sleep.

And that is where the blessing blossoms, when God uses a simple piece of furniture to gather His people around to partake of His grace and providence, something many people overlook or take for granted.

Didn’t the Lord Jesus use the table to gather His disciples around to break bread, offer up thanksgiving to God, and eat? But it wasn’t only food that was passed around but the words of life that came out of His mouth. The table is a sustainer both of the body and the soul, especially when the Lord is invited to it.

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Mat. 4:4)

It doesn’t matter where our tables are – a mat on the seashore, a rock on a hill, a log in the forest, on a boat – the Lord Jesus uses it to feed us. He fed the multitude as they sat down on the grass. He invited the weary fishermen-disciples, “Come and dine” as they dragged the net to shore full of great fishes. But even as they approached, He already had a fire of coals burning, a fish laid thereon, and bread. He has prepared everything even before we draw near to gather around Him and bring our offering. He has everything planned out.

I never planned of changing our formal narra dining table, but with the change, the Lord brought a fresh change into my life and our family.

Which brings us to teacups, linens, and such. Even before I got married many years ago, I loved going to thrift shops and vintage/antique stores. There were not many that were near where I lived, but with the few stores that I frequented, I was always able to collect a modest haul which I was satisfied and happy with. Through the years of my thrifting and “treasure” hunting, I had bought a gilded oval mirror (it still hangs in a corner of our living room), a pair of upholstered armchairs (they are placed on either side of the dining room), crystal chandelier (still hangs at the center of our living room), and many, many others that I have kept and treasured all these years.

Then illness came.

But a few years ago, my husband found an antiques/secondhand store near the kids’ school. From it we bought chandeliers for our bedroom and Hannah’s, too, a narra chest of drawers, a footed crystal vase which I regularly use to hold fresh flowers, a gold-leafed alabaster candleholder, and a few others. Because I’m unable to go out of the house, I send my husband to this antique store to take photos of the items on display, then comes home and I choose.

That was the setup until I stumbled upon this community of local IG sellers and buyers. They sell everything from teacups to linens and furniture. They call each other sister so I believe it’s kind of a sisterhood :) . So, I also started buying from them which led me to the purchase of the dining table I have been writing about.

But that’s not all. I observed that this selling and buying on IG is an active marketplace. Customers buy enthusiastically, maybe because the items are really pretty, mostly branded, and best of all, they are mostly cheap, well, cheaper than when you buy from the mall. Yes, it’s an online thrift store or “Goodwill” store, if you must say.

This is how my daughter Hannah and I conceived the idea: Why not sell also our stuff that’s been sitting in our cabinets and storage for years?

And so, All Things Home PH was birthed. The two first uploads that we did, our items were almost sold out. It was certainly a success, especially with the Dayspring products. They loved every single one. There is this Hope, Peace, Joy blue tea set that they clamored for, but we have only one set.

That tea set was a source of hope, peace, and joy to me in the real sense during the years that I so needed hope, peace, and joy. But I decided that it was time to share it through selling at a low, affordable price and hope to bless the one who gets it. I prayed, “Lord, You are so in my life now. I am Yours, You are mine and nothing can take You away from me. Because I have You in my life, I have everything, including hope, peace, and joy, in the truest and realest sense.”

After selling out our first batch of Dayspring products, I felt that one customer who wasn’t able to get the Ever Grateful mugs was really unhappy. I apologized profusely and she was appeased, but sadness settled in my heart like a stone. I tried to grapple what it was, crying to the Lord. His Spirit spoke in my heart and I cried the more.

You see, most of these customers buy pretty and quite expensive teacups that are made in England or Japan, but the Dayspring products that carry the name of Jesus and His Word – they wanted to have them, too. Like a hunger.

I understood that they want Jesus, that there’s a hunger for Him somewhere in their lives and those Dayspring products somehow triggered that hunger, that want to have Him. Even in a tea set, a mug or a plate. And I cried because one can’t have Jesus in that way. There’s a hunger for the Lord Jesus Christ, a hunger for a real intimate relationship with Him, I just felt it in my spirit. I cried because I want to give them what I’m having. I want to give Jesus to each and everyone, the real Him, the true Savior, Healer, and Lover of our souls, but I feel quite inadequate, what with my illness and disability.

But I have my books, the books I have written during the course of this long illness: Walking Along the Narrow Path: A Story of Redemption, Healing, and Restoration and Quiet Strength: And Learning from the Women of the Bible who Had It. 

So, I whispered, “Lord, I will wait for Your guidance and leading on where to go from here, on what You would have me do. I know it will come.”

And it did. To the one who bought the Jesus is the Gift small oval platter, the Names of Jesus twin hearts nut/candy dish and tall latte mug, I was compelled to insert my first book into the package with my dedication.

The customer messaged me as soon as she received it. It turned out that she’s currently undergoing treatments for breast cancer and the book and my friendship were heaven-sent, according to her. There was much crying and exchange of more words. I went away from our IG chat with a promise of prayers for her and a newfound friendship on my bosom.

The wondrous workings of God – I am in awe!

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The Inward Life

I pull my blankets to my neck to settle in bed after a tiring day (well, my days are always taxing on my body whether I work or rest, because of my illness). It is during these moments of quiet, when the kids have gone to bed and Felix is in the other room praising, that my mind is wont to reflect on the day’s events, not so much on the activities, but more on how I have handled every situation and how I have spent every moment.

Have I been a light to my family? Have I set a good example to an erring child? Have I ministered grace with my words? Have I been patient, gentle, kind? Have I meditated enough on the Lord through the hours? Have I shown fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit? And then there is the inevitable recalling of the day’s blunders and failures. Sometimes it seems that the days are just full of them and I have this practice of taking all the burden and the blame. And feeling guilty when I had enjoyed minding material things, like home decor (planning, browsing, purchasing), etc.

My painting is buried under the huge petals of the lilies, but... you get the message :) .

My painting is buried under the huge petals of the lilies, but… you get the message :) .

But as I pull the blankets over me to rest under their warmth, a voice within me speaks, “Aren’t you being too hard on yourself?” Then it makes me recall all my daily hardships – the sufferings, the inabilities, the sadness and desolation of not being able to go out. It makes me think of my difficult situation, of how hard and lamentable it truly is that sometimes I wail before Felix, the tears hot, fat, and eager to fall. But I have learned to ease away all of my suffering from my heart and mind and let gratitude reign there instead.

Worship. Gratitude. Contrite heart. These are the things that I want to color my moments and days with.

But the voice within me tells me to see things in the right perspective and receive, enjoy, and live with God’s gifts and abundant blessings without guilt or remorse or sadness.

I answer back in my mind that I never wanted to pamper myself with worldly things, to let them take the place of bodily healing, relief, and comfort. To take the place of joy in being able to walk, do the things I want to do. Or the joy of travel and whatever things I can’t do now but longing to do.

And the inner voice replies, “They are never meant to replace them, for they can’t. But you can take them with thanksgiving and praise and turn them into something that will bring God glory. Yes, whether you’re decorating your home and making your surroundings beautiful for you to enjoy and feel happy with, or whatever you do, do it with Him and rejoice together with Him. For everything that you receive comes from His giving hand.

“Thank Him for every single thing received and share with Him your joy, your happiness. He is the heart of your every endeavor, every task, every little thing that matters to you. He is the heart of your praise and worship. Put Him into everything you put your heart into.

“Offer to Him the work of Your hand, whether a needlework, a painting, an essay, a poem, a song, a letter, words on the pages of a journal, a Bible study with someone, fresh flowers arranged in a vase, bread baked to golden perfection, lighted candle whose scent and golden warmth waft gently around the room. Whether you’re harvesting fruits and planning to send a basket to a dear friend, or marvelling at the vibrant color of a splash of paint on a canvas, or being touched by the story of the book you’re reading, or admiring the deep colors of the stones of a vintage brooch and thinking how it would make your mother happy receiving it – offer it all to Him. That pure joy in your heart, He was the One who gave it. Don’t sully it with endless analyses and guilty thoughts and feelings. Joy with Him.

“It is the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” (See 1 Tim. 6:16-17)

He gives richly all things for us to enjoy. Then we must receive them with thanksgiving and praise. And share and make others happy, too.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

I just realized it now that my heart and soul have slowly adapted to their environment. The environment of only our home. In the recent past, I had endlessly daydreamed, longed, and ached for the outdoors: for travel, for the beach, the woods, the plains, the farm, the earth beneath and the vast sky above without obstruction, but often, I had been left hungering more and longing deeper, like the burning pain of an empty stomach. Since it’s painful to dwell on them, my heart and soul have learned to not even venture toward that place of hunger and longing. To not think about those things and places that are so very afar of, so far from my reach. 

Not that I have given up on them, but that I have given up dwelling on them and without me realizing it, I have slowly gravitated inwardly, to our home which is the only world I know now. And if the Lord is speaking to my heart to make my little world beautiful and a source of peace and quiet, fulfilment and happiness, then I will be glad to do it for the praise and glory of His name.

I believe that gardening, home decorating, and other such satisfying undertaking, can be a food for the soul and can very well be a channel for healing.

To have something to look forward to each morning, to be inspired to rise up and praise God for the gifts we are sure to find and enjoy, is far, far better than to anticipate the breaking of dawn with trepidation. For there had been months years ago when sickness didn’t allow inspiration to touch my heart, when all I could do was stare at the wallpaper and count the flowers printed there or gaze out the window and watch the duplex being built, one rivet at a time.

But now, the Lord is filling me with vibrant inspiration. I am filled with eagerness to face each new day. All these – the heart for beauty, the inspiration, the giddy anticipation, and the joy they bring – they are gifts from the ever-giving God.

At the end of the day, when inspiration begins to ebb, I commune with God through prayers, His Word, within the pages of my prayer journal, and through praise music. I cry for His majesty that shines on me and for all the frustrations and all the unrealized dreams. I cry for the ugly, the mistakes, and the beauty that peeks through amazing grace. I cry for this grace that never wanes.

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Home 2

Home is where I’ve been and where I am at these many years. To be always home and unable to go anywhere else is not so bad, if you learn to accept the things that you don’t have the power to change. The secret is to learn to settle down and still be able to see the good things God is doing. Even in your small, limited world. Even in a few thousands square foot of ground.

home 2

When you’re unable to go anywhere else, you’ll be glad there is home. There is always home. The prodigal son learned this the painful way. And yet, home is where he found himself again.

We recently painted the outside walls with the faintest beige, almost an eggshell white when the sun shines on it, and the ironworks with warm sepia (well, that’s what I want to call it because it’s one of my favorite colors in my watercolor palette). When Felix brought home a color chart from the paint manufacturer, all three of us (me and the two kids) got so excited we each chose a color for our own bedrooms. Tim chose baby blue for his, telling us that the cream paint is already stained and that he wanted blue so much anyway and begged, “Please, please, please!” while jumping up and down with excitement. The daddy was silent for a while for he only planned to have the outside walls painted.

But then I ohhed and ahhed at the delicate Wisteria color, almost ethereal in my eyes, and I asked the husband, “Wouldn’t that be lovely for our room?” (Hannah wasn’t about to be left behind. She chose a very faint mint it almost looks like mist).

My poor husband was overpowered and ended up hiring four painters and bringing home gallons upon gallons of paint the colors of cotton candy (for the inside walls, that is, living, dining, and up to the family room, were painted light peach).

For a few weeks now, I stare at the blank Wisteria walls. The frames had not been re-hung for I gave instructions that the holes where thick nails had been bored be covered without any trace. They are now a blank canvas waiting to be adorned. I dream to paint wisteria on 12″ x 16″ watercolor paper, soon I hope, when I’m stronger (and feeling more confident).

In the late afternoons, when the sun is on the other side of the house and not peeking through the windows, the wisteria walls turn into a grey-lavenderish hue, like a smoke passing through.

I look, I observe, I hang my head at a certain angle, trying to capture something from the silence or the space that is all around me. My soul is trying to whisper, “God, where are You in all this? Is it only these walls and nothing else or am I too sentimental to think that You are trying to speak to me through these blank, unadorned walls, through these colors that look like vapor to my eyes? Is there something more, beyond what my eyes can see?”

When the only place you know and revolve around is home, bound by walls and mouldings and French windows and doors, you try to pull the Lord by the arm and invite Him in. Lord Jesus, please, come, sit awhile with me.

I admit I strain to make our home beautiful because it is the only place I can be. But I don’t want it to be only about the material things, the things that my eyes and heart can enjoy. I want it to be transformed into something that could reach and touch my soul. I want it to be a haven for my spirit and weak, ailing body. I want it to be a place for healing.

And that’s why I want to see God in all of it.

I had known the pain and desolation of not being able to see Him everywhere I looked, like He wanted to hide Himself from my vision and avoid the path where I had hoped to catch Him. Job had known this, this pain and hopelessness, ages before I had.

“Look, I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him. (Job 23:8-9)

I don’t want to go back to that place. It’s a dismal, scary place to be.

What a big difference seeing Him in all things can do!

As summer comes bursting forth with its blustery heat and warm late-afternoon breezes, I sit in our patio and relish everything our garden offers. At this time of the year, the narra tree boasts of a thick canopy of green leaves and each year, I notice it ever expanding. One branch extends toward the patio roof, the tight  weaving of green kissing it and I can see it peeking through the fiber glass.

God is growing every living thing, adorning the deciduous tree with new coat and crown of leaves when its time comes. He’s ever sustaining, nurturing, giving increase. Even without our striving.

For the first time this year, the mango tree is bearing fruit. One branch is stooping low for heaviness of fruit and I wonder, if one is heavy with fruit, the posture is always bowed down low. I want to be like our mango tree.

It’s a day away from Resurrection Sunday as I write this. Our family did not plan to go anywhere during Lent since I couldn’t go with them anyway and the kids are going back to school afterwards (their school year is patterned to that of the USA). White sand beaches and pine trees-cooled lodges are a distant dream, for it would be too painful dwelling on them.

Felix put a big Intex pool in the garden. He bought it before the malls closed up for the Holy Week. Tim couldn’t contain his excitement. A few hours before midnight on Wednesday, when the kids had gone to bed, he went out and painstakingly set it up, the instruction manual spread out before him. Around 1 in the morning, water was already filling it up. Still, he got up early, when the sun had not yet chased away the indigo-tinted morning. He wanted that the pool was full before Tim saw it. Not an easy task since the pool is quite big, a rectangle of blue sitting audaciously on a swath of green.

Home. Home is where the love of the Father resides. Never waning, never leaving, never failing.

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” (Luke 15:31)

Tim babbles endlessly in the pool for happiness. He’s so excited and happy he won’t stop talking while splashing and swimming. I don’t stop him. I think that if I closed my eyes, it would be the same sound I would hear if we were in the beach or a lodge secluded by evergreens. And all these, every single morsel of it, I gather them like the Israelites of old gathered manna. This here is food for my hungering soul.

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That Our Joy May Be Full

When was the last time that your joy was full? I mean, in every sense of the word “full”? No part fear, no part sorrow. No lack, no traces of longing or dissatisfaction somewhere deep inside. You are content and your joy is pure and unsullied. Maybe for you, it was last Christmas or yesterday or this morning. For me, I can’t remember the last time. It was too long ago, a time when good health was mine to enjoy. For even when my son was born, a day I would have celebrated with trumpets blowing, sorrow filled my heart. I was blessed with a beautiful, healthy baby boy, but I was too sick and weak to relish the moment. Instead of my heart being filled with joy, it was filled with fear. It has been that way since my health was stolen and in its place is sickness and suffering: joy mixed with sorrow. If that were even possible.

This was just a super quick doodle on my mixed media journal. But if you look closer, notice the metallic gold, copper, and ruby on the petals’ and leaves’ edges. For aren’t answered prayers and fulfilled dreams like gilded things?

Since around Christmas last year, I had been feeling depleted and running on low (if not empty). I couldn’t seem to put my heart and mind into a place where I could move in a steady rhythm once again and with some measure of contentment and joy. So, I just let myself float and wait for fresh grace and inspiration to come. Although all that time, I continued steadfastly in prayer.

The night I started to write this, I felt some sense of peace and courage flowing in to continue to serve the Lord with all I am and to love Him just as much. In a subtle, almost imperceptible way, I felt a fresh and much deeper still commitment to do those things that are pleasing in God’s eyes creeping into my heart, spreading quietly but surely. I needed that fresh watering of my soul for I had been writing on my prayer journal, asking the Lord to not let me grow cynical.

I remembered the Lord Jesus’ words —

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mat. 11:28)

“…he who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

His love and words woo us back to Him, faithfully and fervently abiding in Him.

I was revived, rekindled, and wooed back into the happy place of loving and following the Lord Jesus Christ. It didn’t come like a rushing wind, or a mighty fire from heaven, or a flood that swept me. It came like a soft feather caressing my face, like a warm flannel gently wrapped around me by unseen hands. I had to strain my ears to listen, to make sure it was there alright.

When I woke up the next morning, my soul whispered, “I love You, my Father, my dearest Lord Jesus Christ”, even before I opened my eyes.

I know, it is well with my soul.

Sometimes when I desire so much to get well and be able to go out, doing the things I’ve been so wanting to do, like traveling and testifying of the grace and mercy of God, a voice whispers in my mind. It tempts me to feel guilty asking for those things that will make me full of joy. Most of the time, it succeeds. I listen, and then feel guilty. But when I reached John 16, I was freed through the Lord’s words. Surely, I have read it numerous times before, but this time, it took on a new color, the very thing that I needed.

“…ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24)

That voice in my head has been lying, for the Lord Jesus tells me differently.

It’s okay to not feel joy-full when we’re deeply longing for something, like healing perhaps. We need not feel guilty if we feel sorrow not receiving the things we so desire. That doesn’t make us ungrateful. And yes, it’s okay to desire the things that will do us a world of good. Even the Lord knows that it’s only when we have received what we asked for that our joy may be full. He’s saying that, until we ask and receive it, its absence in our lives leaves much to be desired and our joy is not complete.

It’s okay to desire and ask and believe that whatever we’re asking for from His hand will make us full of joy.

A healing.

A child.

A friend.

A love.

A yes.

A relationship mended.

A marriage repaired.

A family restored.

A loved one’s salvation.

A place visited.

A dream fulfilled.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.(1 John 5:14-15)

Because, you know what? He’s all there. He is in that place where our joy becomes full. He is there waiting to give it to us, to rejoice with us in the receiving.

Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

The Lord is inviting us, encouraging us, beckoning to us with His outstretched hands.

Ask.

Receive.

Be joy-full.

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