Spiritual Hunger

Lately when I presented myself before the Lord in worship and sang my one song (or two) before breathing became short, my soul had asked painfully. As I tried to touch heaven and my Savior King’s heart, this was what went on in the depths of my soul:

Here I sit in this room, singing praises to You, desiring to worship You with all of me and yet, it seems that what I do is not enough.

What really connects me to heaven? To You? To eternity? Is it the song? My voice? My raised hands? My posture? My words and declarations like, “Thank You, Lord! I love You so much, my dearest Jesus!” and such like?

What makes me Yours, completely and eternally? Are they the things that I do (or not do)?

I think not.

It should be my heart. I want to know and experience again to be completely owned by You. So, take my heart. Take all of it. I give it all to You. Please own me completely. Again.

My loose painting of roses on my Monologue visual journal. I hope you like it :) .

My loose painting of roses on my Monologue visual journal. I hope you like it :) .

Still, I felt that wasn’t enough. Words of love like that seem hollow when there is something missing. Something I cannot put my finger on sometimes. It seemed that I couldn’t see that cord that connected me to my Lord, like the cord that connected a child to its mother. Suddenly, I realized that it is not the things, the activities that we do, that make us one with the Eternal King, the Savior that will bring us to His everlasting kingdom.

What makes us citizens of heaven, to be seated together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus? And to experience that everyday of our life and not feel estranged or orphaned? For me, the altar call, the salvation prayer, and the baptism in water in Jesus’ name are like lightyears ago.

By God’s grace, I never turned my back on Him ever since. But the seasons of life change and the face of our faith change with it. Just like winter, spring, summer, and fall, our lives and faith journeys shift from fallow to fruitful, sunny to stormy, rich to wanting.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. (Ecc. 3:1)

Looking back at the 13 years of being ill and walking with the Lord Jesus, I can see the seasons changing in connection with my faith and relationship with Him. There had been seasons of fear and uncertainty. Seasons of partial healing and seasons of sickness and suffering again. Seasons of doubts, discouragement, and even resentment and wanting to rebel.

And then there was the season of great hunger for the Lord Jesus, my Savior and Healer, that I will not forget.

Looking back now, that season of hunger was also the season of being nearest to Him. He was a constant in my thoughts, in my song in the night, and in my Bible readings. He was in all of my moments.

Everything I did was to reach out to Him, to touch even the hem of His garment. For Him to see my tears. To see me and touch me and make everything okay. In that season, He was all I ever wanted. My burning desire.

One time when Hannah read to me a passage from the gospels, I cried. Hannah asked why and I said that I cried because I wanted the Lord Jesus so much. Looking back, even in that season of hunger (and more so), everything in my life seemed pure, fine, and right with God. Hunger for Him is purifying. A sanctifying experience.

And that’s where I found my answer to my soul’s questions of recent days.

Our hunger for God is what connects us to Him, surely and completely. We come before Him because our hearts are so very hungry and we know that it’s only Him who could fill that hunger. It is our hunger that He fills up. And when He does, we feel Him and all of eternity with Him. And we are that child again connected to its mother like an umbilical cord.

Without that cord, the child will die. Without His filling up our hunger, we will die. A slow spiritual death.

But if we are not hungry for Him, how could He fill us up? If our vessels are full of this world’s goods, where would His place be? First the child must experience pangs of hunger, his tummy is hollow, so he cries. He cries wantonly and will not stop until his mother nurses him and his hunger is fully satisfied.

This is what connects us to our Father in heaven: our hunger for Him. When we are hungering for Him, we will turn to Him, run to Him, hound Him, cry out to Him and reach out for Him until we can touch even the hem of His garment. We will pour out our hearts to Him like a drink offering. Unrelentingly until He comes and satiates our hunger and we will be refreshed and revived.

Deep spiritual hunger is beyond lifestyle. Above and beyond anything this world could offer. Above our gifts, the things we love to do, what inspires us. It is even beyond the beautiful praise music. Hunger for God is free of any earthly thing that cannot really, eternally satisfy. It is a hollow in our soul only He could fill.

But even this hunger for God must be prayed for and sought after.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)

We want Him to grant the desires (our prayers) of our hearts. But we must also ask that He put those holy desires in us. That we must desire Him more than the things of this world. Yes, even more than His gifts and blessings and the things we do that delight our hearts and souls and make us burst in overflowing inspiration and joy.

God fills us up by the outpouring of His Holy Spirit. We may think that we are full when our earthly desires are met, but it is only in being full of the Holy Spirit (the manifest presence of God) that we are truly full.

“…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)

When we worship, it is the moving of the Holy Spirit that assures us we are citizens of heaven and we have not lost our seat beside Christ. It is our seal, our branding, of belonging to Him, now and for all eternity. And as we do our best to reach out to heaven and touch it during worship, God will put that craving in our soul once again, craving for His love and presence and all of Him.

And that’s what I received and experienced again: the wanting of the Lord Jesus Christ so much it hurts. That experience is in and of itself pure joy and satisfaction.

(Erratum: In my previous post, it should be “steering wheel” and not “stirring wheel” 😀 . Sorry for the error).

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Journey with Jesus,

Rushing Through Life

I found out that even at painting, we rush, too. Or maybe I’m the only one. I think that’s one of my weaknesses in watercolor painting – I so want to see the end product that at some point, I hasten it up, committing mistakes in the process.

rushingthrough

I was very eager to start the third piece in my Magnolia Project because it involved one of many lovely Bible verses that I treasure. It started out good and promising. The white magnolia petals and its pink stamen were pretty in their simplicity. Even the background color I used came out surprisingly comforting, too – a combination of very light cerulean blue and olive green. I used a thick mop brush to spread the wash and when it dried, it created tinges of blue and green and I thought it was lovely. But I wanted to see the final product, so I rushed through the hand lettering which is not my strong point. To make the story short, I ruined the painting because I didn’t take time in writing the verse. Although I used Finetec metallic gold, that didn’t do the trick.

I lamented my white magnolia flower and its buds. I regretted rushing through the project and not taking my time to produce a carefully-painted artwork.

Before I became a born-again Christian, I used to measure time by productivity. As I looked back at the year that was, I measured its quality and magnitude by how much I had accomplished in my business – sales, new products, new projects, new developments, new territories. How many trips and seminars abroad I went to, and if I had invested in a prime property or upgraded my vehicle. The goal was always to move forward and move up. Always adding knowledge and experience into my profession. I was contented if my year had been full and frenetic.

I used to qualify the years by how the dreams were lived.

Life was always a rat race. For me, it wasn’t as much about competing as it was about aiming higher, setting more ambitious goals and achieving just as much. If you’re an overly ambitious businessman or woman, every hour must count toward the fulfilment of every goal.

I put up my own chemicals company at 30. And from Day 1, I didn’t stop running the lane of fulfilling dreams and ambitions and unstoppable success.

Then illness came and time stood still.

When you’re staring down illness and the threat of death, your perspective shifts dramatically. You’re apt to forget about all else and just want to survive. Realizations, naked and clear, suddenly play a powerful role.

Early on in my illness, I knew without a doubt that it was “a call” from above. I trembled in fear just by the realization of it. In panic, I set out to make peace with God and to align my whole being with His will. And fast, tearing down all obstacles. I thought I couldn’t afford a moment’s delay. I understood clearly then that man’s salvation is an emergency. There might not be another chance…

And so I received my salvation a day after my 36th birthday. The peace that flooded my being was one I had never experienced in my entire life. I felt that finally, I was placed on a firm and hallowed ground and that there was absolutely no other place on earth I’d rather be. My whole view of life and the world changed overnight: I was no longer the overly ambitious, over-achieving businesswoman. I was now a person who had received abounding grace and mercy and who was desperately waiting for healing. My worldly life had ended and a new one had begun. I was born again in an entirely different realm, raised up together, and made [to] sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (see Eph. 2:6).

I knew it then when a rich friend from the gym I used to frequent called to invite me to an affair in a plush hotel. She excitedly told me of her plans to get us fabulous hair and makeup appointments in the salon and wear our gorgeous best. She didn’t know I was very ill and unable to move normally. (I withdrew from the world so suddenly and quietly it would seem like I had vanished into thin air).

When the call ended, I slowly hobbled to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. My days of worldly pursuits had ended and there was no turning back.

But in my sickbed, I begged the Lord to hasten to heal me so I could go back to work. My company was limping with only my staff running it. But more than that, I desperately wanted to go back to the work I so loved. Although I had just become a true child of God, I was unaware that I was still identifying and defining myself by my work and not by my daughtership.

Weeks turned into months wherein I desired to get well and recover to be able to go back to work. Eventually, Felix had to takeover the management of the company. Still, healing didn’t come.

I was rushing through God’s refining process. Although still very sick, my vision and desires rested on the career I had unwillingly left behind. I couldn’t settle in to God’s own plan for me. I thought my plan was also His.

The waiting time, which I had hoped would only take weeks, took years. And finally in 2007, more than three years after that last day that I worked in the office, I totally surrendered to God and His will. A revelation happened on that afternoon in our bedroom and I vowed never to go back to work again. I was God’s and He could do with me whatever He wished. Then the rushing through life stopped.

I slowly settled in to the new normal. I stopped counting months and years before I could go back to work for there was no more work waiting for me. God had chosen Felix to lead our company. I settled in to His pace and learned to seek His will and purpose for me. I hadn’t a clue what it was, but I believed that I had all the time in the world to figure it out, as long as I remained fastened to His side.

I look back at the years that had passed, still in the long waiting season, and I can no longer valuate them as I used to. No worldly achievements, accomplishments, or acquisitions to count. There is only walking with Jesus, ever abiding and continuously learning and growing in Him. Unlike before when I looked back at my prosperous years, they were neatly aligned like shining trophies prominently displayed where everyone could see. Now, it seems to me that my years are jumbled and remembered only by seasons of illness and suffering interwoven with enduring tender mercies, healing moments, good and perfect gifts, Jesus’ unfailing love and faithfulness and His constant presence.

I’m learning to embrace these years and to count them as not wasted but ones that have an impact on eternity.

The world measures the years by success and growth and profits and the things that can be seen and touched and flaunted. Heaven measures them entirely differently.

(Photo: My watercolor painting of sky, hills, and meadows. I invite you to visit my art gallery on Facebook :) ).

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Options (Testimony)

I wish there were a gentler way to write about this, but there isn’t. I had lived this kind of lifestyle, and now that I am walking with the Lord Jesus, I learned that there’s no use sugar-coating this painful reality: I had come to realize that a woman of the world who has so many opportunities and options in her hands has a high risk of following the wide road where immorality is condoned and even defended. Options coupled with the human being’s propensity to be selfish is a very potent combination that drives one into choosing and pursuing a worldly, pleasurable life that feeds one’s lusts, vanity, and pride. Or tries to alleviate one’s loneliness and emptiness. Or meaninglessness.

options

Like me before, there are accomplished career and business women today who live lives that are to be envied, when seen on the outside. They have flourishing careers and businesses; they have their own comfortable living spaces; they travel; they shop; they pamper and beautify themselves with the latest cosmetic trends. They are very independent and self-sufficient. They read self-help books instead of God’s Word. Some go to church because they believe it’s a duty (and it’s good to look at). They know how blessed they are and the least they could do is go to church at least every Sunday. If at all. They want to maintain this religiousness. It is a neat thing to complete the full life.

These are women who profess they know God but are not surrendered to Him. God is just a part of their lifestyle, One who is relegated to the background but never truly worshiped. What they really worship is the world and the things of this world (most unfortunately, they don’t even know that or wouldn’t admit it). They are in love with the world and not of the Savior of the world.

These are intelligent, smart women who know what they want and how to get it. Money and options which are available to them in abundance and their own self-centeredness will bring them their hearts’ desires. Conscience is stuffed and locked up somewhere inside where it can’t meddle with their plans. (Even their prayers are prayers to prosper their selfish motives. I still see myself kneeling inside the Catholic Church’s perpetual adoration chapel praying fervently for God to bless my sinful plans).

Again, I wish there were a milder way to write about these things, but sin is sin. I know. I had lived that life and knew other women who did the same. The Bible says that “she who lives in pleasure is dead while she lives” (1 Tim. 5:6).

Means and the ways of the world offer a woman options to get the life she wants even if it tramples God’s commands. Welcome to the wide road!

“…for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” (Mat. 7:13)

It is both an apprenticeship to the world (not knowing any other way of life) and ignorance of the work of sin in one’s life. The Lord Jesus’ words echo from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

It is really that. They know not what they do. The world and the endless options it offers have blinded their hearts and minds. Snippets of Romans 1 squeeze themselves into mind:

They don’t glorify God.

are unthankful

vain in their imaginations

Foolish hearts are darkened.

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

reprobate

But for most, they are simply lost. Lost sheep which the Savior is still searching for.

Divorce and Annulment 

Long time ago in small towns in the provinces, life was quiet. Everyday, the mothers cooked and washed clothes and tended their families; the grandmothers taught their daughters how to be good, faithful wives, their granddaughters how to behave in public and guard their purity. Long time ago where I grew up, marriage was sacred and faithfully kept and families were loved and nurtured. Faithfulness, purity, and humility were just a few of the virtues that were steadfastly pursued and kept. Life was simple. People loved faithfully, even sacrificially. They were content. They had a fear of God.

Then life became richer, in terms of financial and material wealth, careers and businesses. A wealth of opportunities were opened, especially to women. They are no longer relegated only to tend the home, but they are now leading their own companies and calling the shots. Which is not bad at all, except that, with the success came independence and the freedom to choose what makes one happy and fulfilled, even to losing one’s soul.

For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? (Mark 8:36)

There is nothing wrong in wanting to be happy. But when we seek it the wrong way, that’s where the problems begin. Selfishness and a conscience hardened by the world’s teachings can make wrong seem right.

So, a worldly successful woman can choose to opt out of her sacred vows. She believes she is entitled to it.

He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. (Mat. 19:8, emphasis mine)

I had walked that cold corridor going to the offices of a reputable law firm. I wanted annulment. I wanted to pursue my own peace and happiness. Never mind if my baby needed a daddy. It wasn’t working. I had the money. I would recreate my life. The sound of my heels clicking against the tiled floor echoed in the empty corridor. It was hollow. Just like my soul.

But the Lord Jesus Christ got me even before I got to hire the lawyers’ services. He saved me. It wasn’t anything that I had done. It was pure grace. A mountain of divine mercy.

…But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. (Rom. 5:20)

New Laws, Technology, and Inventions

Laws that give rights to do what is naturally wrong are created more and more. Their reach becomes wider and broader and gaining power. Today, men can change their gender physically and permanently and marry their own kind. Sodom and Gomorrah have risen up from the ashes. But if God completely destroyed it then because of utter sinfulness, wouldn’t it be the same now? Have the heart and character of the holy God of the Old Testament changed? Not a chance!

…I am the Lord, I change not… (Mal. 3:6)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Heb. 13:8)

Thirteen years ago, I paid P60,000 for a liposuction procedure of my tummy. I was not at all fat. In fact, I was very slim as I spent hours in the gym everyday. But my tummy wasn’t as flat as I wanted it. I wanted to have a perfect body. I had the money. I had an option. I took it. Barely two months later, I fell ill.

If you would ask me, now that I’m a born-again Christian, what I think of liposuction, I would say it’s vanity, and it’s therefore sin. I would never recommend it.

Maybe we could buy happiness. We may enjoy it for a fleeting moment. But happiness will always be temporary (for it depends on our circumstances), but the joy that comes from the Lord lasts forever.

The narrow road doesn’t offer options so we could follow our own selfish desires. But rather, following Jesus requires us to deny ourselves and take up our own crosses (see Mat. 16:24). It’s a straight highway to heaven. It is a life fully surrendered to God and His will. But it is the only way to life.

Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Mat. 7:14)

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The Beauty of Obedience

I am in awe of the faithfulness of the Lord through His Spirit that He has given us. He speaks to us through His abiding Spirit, even of the minutest detail of our lives. That is, if we are constantly attuned to His Spirit’s whisperings. If we foster an unbroken fellowship with Him and are continually connected with Him through worship, prayers, His Word, and a keen awareness of His hovering presence, we will see the radiance of His light ever guiding us. And it is beautiful. His whisperings of reminders and teachings to obey Him in all aspects of life will be a source of joy. And our obedience itself will not be a burden but a delight to us. But most of all, to Him.

obedience

Obedience in the Little Things

These are the things that happen in our hearts and minds and are almost indiscernible to other people. These are little decisions that we make deep inside us even before they are manifested outwardly. And although we may think them as simple and small, they mean a lot to our Savior. That’s why the Holy Spirit whispers to our hearts about them. These are decisions we make moment by moment, like:

Not criticizing and judging others in our hearts.

Not comparing ourselves with others and harboring a teeny weeny bit of pride.

Telling the truth as it is without exaggeration or flattery.

Keeping quiet when our silence is needed.

Not talking too much  for In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise (Prov. 10:19).

Being careful in choosing our words that they may minister to the hearers.

Choosing to encourage rather than crush a person’s spirit.

Choosing to be gentle, patient, and kind when provoked.

Not gossiping or talking about other people in a negative way (or if we don’t feel a genuine concern for the other person’s improvement or development).

Being grateful instead of complaining and grumbling.

The list above proves that God is concerned even in our most private thoughts and emotions, what compels us to think, speak, and act as we do. His sole purpose is our total sanctification. Therefore, we cannot ignore the voice of the Spirit that speaks within us.

But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:15-16)

If we walk in the Spirit, being aware of His constant nearness, day by day, moment by moment, our hearts and minds will be attuned to His still, small voice, ever whispering, ever guiding. We obey with gladness and our spirits are buoyed up. Maintaining the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:4) then becomes a joy and inspiration to us, a gentle peace settling in our souls, as if God’s river of life courses through our very being.

Obedience in the Big Things

This often requires our commitment and sacrifice. Sometimes they could bring pain. But being determined to be victorious in Christ compels us to obey and trust that God will recompense us for it. These things may be:

Not to worry or be anxious but to trust God completely.

Commit our hearts, minds, souls, time, and energy to worship God. To give of ourselves to Him unreservedly.

For us parents to commit our lives in bringing up [our] children in the training and admonition of the Lord (see Eph. 6:4), being consistent to lead and set a good example for them to follow. To not become lax and complacent in our God-given role.

Still, a few other things under this could be:

Obedience in Prayer

There is an enduring beauty in giving of ourselves to true prayer, not the rushed, half-hearted, half-minded kind. Prayer is talking to the King of kings and Lord of lords, the God Almighty. It should involve the highest and complete reverence, awe, and humility. Praying is talking and asking God in full faith, believing without a doubt that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (see Heb. 11:6). If we pray with this knowledge in mind, we will not be blabbering away with vain words that we ourselves think are ineffective.

We will be praying in faith, every word we utter has its own weight, believing that whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight (1 John 3:22).

Growing faint in prayer may happen every now and then. But the Lord has commanded us that [we] ought always to pray, and not to faint (Luke 18:1) and even supported it with a parable to bring this home, leaving us no reason to dwell in that discouraged situation.

In fact, He encourages us to be consistent and to persevere in prayer, even in the face of difficult circumstances that conspire against us. It is a command we need to obey and in our obedience with faith at the forefront, it just cannot be that nothing good will come out of it.

Obedience in Forgiving

For Christians, we cannot afford to harbor unforgiveness for long. We do not want to provoke God’s displeasure towards us and so, we obey His command to forgive others so our heavenly Father will also forgive us. We pray to be able to forgive not only in words, but from the heart. That is hard, that’s why we need to pray for it until it happens. But it doesn’t end there. He also teaches to love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Mat. 5:44).

Love our enemies! Yes, those who have deeply wronged and hurt us. Forgiving them from the heart is one thing, loving them is entirely another! But it is a command we need to obey. How can we love them then, especially when they are not at all repentant? I have written about my own painful and difficult experience of forgiving and loving despite of. You can read it here.

It is more excellent to just humbly obey and surrender everything to Him: our pride, resentments, and hurts. We give it all to Him for He said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay” (see Heb. 10:30). Our obedience will bring Him pleasure. He will right the wrong.

Obedience in What Delights God

Sunday is the saddest day of the week for me. Sounds ironic, considering that it is a day to worship the Lord. But because I cannot travel to church, only my family goes and I am always left behind. These six years. There were seasons when I was very sick, yet they had to leave for church because “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” and all those teachings we honor. And our children sing in the choir.

Since December last year, my son Tim has gone up to the Children’s Choir (from Cherubims Choir). He’s happy there. He loves the new songs he’s learning. On February 14, our Church celebrated its 41st anniversary. It was a huge and very special celebration and worship service. Such occasions usually last until around midnight (starting at before noon). Tim’s supposed to stay at home with me, and in fact, he expressed his fears in going and singing in the expanded Children’s Choir (other outreaches joining, filling up the risers up and down, center, left, and right).

“Mom, what if I get lost in the crowd?” He asked me. He also went to his Dad with the same concern. Our main church holds its worship service in a stadium. I, in particular, didn’t want to accept defeat, although it would have been more peaceful in my heart and mind that he stayed home. But we wanted to be victorious in the Lord. So, we came up with a plan that Tim would not be “lost in the crowd” as he (and I also) had feared.

For the first time, Tim sang in the Children’s Choir on our Church’s anniversary and we were all glad for our family’s victory.

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God’s Beautiful Presence

I should have been thrilled when school ended and the kids would be on vacation for more than 4 months. Four months! Because Reedley International School will be following the USA’s start of school year beginning July. But I wasn’t that excited at all. Sure, I was very thankful for a fruitful school year, the kids both receiving honors in academic excellence, and the four-month break would be really great. If I could travel.

God's beautiful presence

Weeks before summer would officially start, I prayed for healing and strength, enough to enable me to travel to our Church’s crusades. ‘Tis the season for spiritual crusades for our Church all over the country and what better way to spend the summer than to go to them all if possible. I zeroed in on this kingdom work, thinking that the Lord would grant it according to 1 John 5:14-15:

And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:

And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

I imagined our family traveling to Baguio City for the first leg of our crusade season. We would be staying at The Manor in Camp John Hay. (Thinking about it seems like wishing to holiday in Europe instead of just Baguio City, a 5-hour drive from home. It is that high for me to attain). After the crusade, we would spend a day and a night in San Juan, La Union (I’ve been dreaming of the white sands of San Juan Beach). I kept my dreams as simple and lean as that. I thought that anything beyond it would keep the dreams just dreams instead of turn into reality. But I knew (I could feel it in every fiber of my being even right here on my bed) that when my bare feet had touched the sands as fine as sugar crystals and the salty breeze had caressed my face, I would lift up my hands toward heaven and worship God in abandon.

Holy Week had come and gone. I have not traveled a single mile.

Before the Holy Week, I resolved to not go to Facebook. Seeing posts about vacations and beaches would plunge me into the pit of despair. I told myself that as long as I am severed from the world’s movements and exciting activities, I would be fine.

I can’t travel, but that doesn’t mean my family, especially the kids, would stay put, too. I don’t have the heart to tie them at home. It’s always been like this in previous years: I plan their summer trips while I stayed at home, waiting eagerly for them and the photos of their adventures. I dreamed and prayed that it would be different this year…

But I find myself buying again 3, t-h-r-e-e not four, vouchers for a day tour at Island Cove in Kawit, Cavite. The kids would love it, what with the resort’s water park and wildlife sanctuary with karitela (horse-drawn carriage) ride. Then there’s Fishing Village where they would have their lunch, a restaurant above the waters held up by stilts, the appetizers are served in a sungka (the thought of it saddens me; my husband and I are both Pinoy foodies and it would have been great if I’d be with them). They will also visit the historic mansion of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo at the heart of Kawit. I’m happy for them (sigh).

But my heart aches. And I’m sure the Lord knows that. I don’t want to be bitter although my heart sometimes wants to slide down that road. I avoid it like the plague. Fastening myself to bitterness would be my undoing.

But still. I can’t calm my heart and soothe and shush it. I asked the Lord if that’s what He expects me to do: to put a vise grip around my heart and stop the flow of desires. To just be numb. That’s not the way to live, is it? Even Philippians 4:12-13 has turned shabby against the sheen of my heart’s deep longings. My emotions vacillate from wanting to sulk against the Lord to comforting myself with the gifts that surround me. I pray that envy, coveting, and comparing would be shaken off of me, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind (Rev. 6:13) or like the scales falling from Paul’s eyes, making him see completely.

And so I harbored the desires and longings and sadness and traces of bitterness in my heart like a heavy yoke. That is, until Good Friday when our Church relived the washing of feet while the choir sang in the background.

As brothers and sisters took turns in washing each other’s feet, I remembered the Lord Jesus. Hours before He would be crucified, He stooped down to wash each of His disciples’ feet. He humbly showed us how to truly serve. How not to obsess with our own selves and desires, but to focus on Him. Only on Him. That He should be enough. His beautiful presence in our lives. For it’s really all about Him.

Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb. 12:2)

I’ve been so focused on what I’ve been missing and missing the Lord in the process.

Years ago, when my blissful honeymoon with my Savior overshadowed all illness and suffering, fears, uncertainties, and any latent desires, I had this spiritual visitation:

I was sitting on my high-back swivel chair (I used it as a wheelchair) in our bedroom, listening to praise music as I looked out the window. When Hillsong’s You Are Holy played, my spirit was caught up in the glorious chorus:

I’ll sing Your praises forever

Deeper in love with You

Here in Your courts where I’m close to Your throne

I’ve found where I belong.*

I felt my spirit soar. I sang along. And as I did, I had some kind of a conversation with a heavenly being. It went like this:

“If you were given the chance to choose between being able to walk but not sing and being able to sing but not walk, what would it be?” The angel asked.

I answered without hesitation. “I want to sing! I want to sing to the Lord! That’s what I want. Oh, please, make me be able to sing.” And I sobbed for the sincerity of my desire, the deep longing of my heart spilling. This was the time that I was too sick and weak to sing or walk more than a few steps. My desire to worship God trumped any other desires hidden in my heart.

Then years passed. Maybe prolonged illness and suffering could dull the sheen of ardency in one’s faith and love. Or maybe, partial healing could entice one to dream and want beyond one’s capability. Or maybe, life just happened with all it’s temptations, trials, and desires. And maybe these dreams and longings ignite a zest for more of life. Fire up extraordinary inspiration to dream big and rise up and soar like an eagle. In faith. Like the promise of Isaiah 40:31.

That would be great minus the intense feelings of envy and the pull of coveting and comparing. But if we learn to curb those unprofitable emotions and actions, to shove them aside and not dwell in them but in the everyday gifts of God and immerse one’s being in gratefulness and intentional thankfulness, those unsatisfied hungers that threaten to undo us would turn to deep satiety in Him we never knew was possible. And it is possible. All things are possible to Him.

So, delight in the Lord. Gladden ourselves in Him. He will never disappoint.

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Journey with Jesus,

Overcomer

My breakfast tray was placed before me but instead of presenting it with a cheerful “Good morning! Enjoy your breakfast!” as I would have loved, it was accompanied by heavy-handed remarks that plunged my heart and spirits to the floor all at once. If it’s a person close to you who does that, it’s really hard to recover from the hurt and discouragement it brings. That kind of discouragement which holds your heart like a vise grip. When your life is hard physically, you don’t need any more emotional challenges that try to snuff out what little hope you hold onto. You just want kindness and encouragement given intentionally or even sacrificially. You want compassion.

Overcomer

But then, other people have their own issues to work on, too, even if they are able-bodied. One has to consider that. They may have their own problematic attitudes and temper to deal with.  (And even if they don’t see the problem, changing people is not our job. It’s God’s. We have to leave it to Him). In my years of illness and suffering, I have learned to see outside of my situation and try to understand other people even though they are not walking the same difficult path as I am.

The wounds, my heart can absorb and forgive, and overtime, will heal and be forgotten, like a mist lifted off of the surface of the lake, making everything clear and shimmering once again. But the momentary discouragement is another thing. Although it is often momentary, it can still shake our hard-earned peace. When you’re ill, you need all the hope and encouragement you can get. But if it’s the opposite that’s thrown at you, that’s when you need to — overcome.

I stared at my breakfast tray, too sad and frustrated to make any move. Actually, it was already late for breakfast. And my breathing becomes labored and gets more difficult the longer I delay eating. But when you’re discouraged, you want to punish yourself all the more, maybe to elicit pity or stir up guilt feelings in the other person. I couldn’t eat. Didn’t want to eat. Self-pity, anger, frustration were all rising up within me. I hate being pitiful. I hate being weak and needy. I hate being miserable. But that’s what discouragement does.

Thank God the Holy Spirit within us doesn’t sleep. He’s alive! He clears up our muddled mind and emotions and speaks truth to us. Wisdom speaks: For whoever finds me finds life, And obtains favor from the Lord” (Prov. 8:35). And rebukes: “If you don’t eat, who will suffer? Does your not eating solve your problems and put into right all the wrongs?”

“Yes, I know. This wisdom is not from above and I’m being foolish,” I answered in my mind. Then I let James 3:17 land softly and settle there. I took a long, deep, cleansing breath, and as I exhaled, I released these words, squaring my shoulders: “JUST. OVERCOME.” I picked up my fork and began to eat, a smile curving my lips.

With the Holy Spirit and wisdom gained from the Word, we can command ourselves, “JUST OVERCOME”. And just like that, we are strengthened. With these two, the apostle Paul’s admonition to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21) can squeeze itself through our confused minds and hurting hearts and we will be able to do the right thing. There’s no use analyzing the other person’s abrasive attitude or insensitivity. It’s not our problem; don’t dwell on it for so long. We’ll just have to step up our prayers for that person in our life.

But it’s not only discouragements that we need to overcome. There are other, maybe harder, things that life throws at us which need our overcoming. It’s either we overcome or accept defeat. It’s do or die. Sometimes I imagine my life like a medieval race where there are almost impossible obstacles, like a giant swinging pendulum that you need to assess its frequency to be able to pass through it without it hitting you, for if it does, you will fall into a pit of waiting, hungry crocodiles.

Didn’t the writer of Hebrews say that our faith journey is a race?

… let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us… (Heb. 12:1)

Running the race in such a way that we obtain the prize (1 Cor. 9:24) takes great courage, discipline, patience, and perseverance.

In the earlier years after my salvation, I saw how there were so many hard things I needed to overcome: my sickness and suffering, the anxieties and fears it brought, and the constant threat of hopelessness. But after reading and meditating on the first few chapters of the Book of Revelation where the Lord tells us “To him who overcomes” seven times, I understood that I had to be an overcomer. I reasoned that if there was nothing for me to overcome, how could I be called an overcomer? So, I learned to be grateful for trials. For when God sees fit to train me in this regard, then I will have to yield myself to the learning process.

Thank God we don’t overcome on our own. We can’t possibly do that even if we tried. The years when I was outside of the Lord’s presence and protection, I had let all kinds of temptations enslave me. I didn’t have the spiritual strength to stand up against them. Yielding to temptation was easier than overcoming it. But those years are gone. Even so, our life with the Savior is not without tests and temptations. And I believe they have actually intensified when we aligned our lives with God, because we have set ourselves against His arch-enemy. When we wrestle with our thoughts and emotions, we are actually wrestling with the devil’s strongholds. Pride, fears, anger, envy, and all other human emotions that draw us away from God are his territory.

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

What do you need to overcome in your life right now? Temptations in all its tricky disguises? For in essence, it’s really all a kind of temptation. It all began in the Garden of Eden. The tempter put out his temptation and got Eve’s attention. Eve failed to overcome it; Adam failed to overcome Eve. Because of their failure to overcome, sin entered the world. Satan became its god (2 Cor. 4:4). But that wasn’t the end. The Lord Jesus came and has overcome the world (John 16:33).

On our own, we can never overcome the world and all its tribulations. But because Jesus has overcome it, we can, too. Our victory is in Him. Whoever is not in Christ can be the devil’s puppet. He or she will never have enough power to stand up against him and overcome his works. But those who are in Christ are given these powerful weapons to overcome their accuser:

And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Rev. 12:11)

I thought about that last part – “they loved not their lives unto the death” – long and hard and came to realize that most of our defeats and miseries are spawned by our self-love. It’s loving our lives more than loving God. But the Lord has already warned us about it.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. (Mat. 16:25)

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Journey with Jesus,

10 Ways to Find Beauty for Ashes

As true worshipers of God, we have this fervent desire to perfect our walk before Him, to be pleasing to Him in everything we do – every thought, every intent, every word, every endeavor, every work, every interaction. We want that the entirety of our life honors God, an offering and a sacrifice to Him for a sweet-smelling aroma. A life that is in itself a worship. Even David had this deep desire in him:

I will behave wisely in a perfect way…
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart. (Ps. 101:2)

beauty_for_ashes

It is what is at the heart of our daily prayers: to bring God joy, to delight Him with our everyday lives, not only to gain His overflowing favor, but because it is what the Holy Spirit has planted in our heart of hearts. It is the very reason we exist – our lives giving glory to God.

But doing daily life has its own challenges. It’s never really smooth sailing. Stumbling stones will suddenly appear on our paths, often at times when we least expect them. A child might have disrespected us, bringing us pain and great disappointment. Another child might be being difficult and before we know it, we had come to the end of our patience, we had shouted, or spoken harshly, and we had hurt the child’s feelings and brought him/her to tears.

Or maybe a spouse’s gross insensitivity has deeply wounded us and we just want to curl up in misery and drown in our own tears. We are utterly frustrated and we don’t even know how to begin to overcome our grief. Or maybe we desperately want it to work out so we try to talk, at first calmly explaining, even pleading with tears for an open mind and heart, for understanding and a reconciliation at the end. But maybe the spouse is really being difficult, impossible even! And before you know it, you’re fighting back word for word, hurt for hurt. Your morning prayer for a perfect heart and walk before God has been ruthlessly trampled. The atmosphere of love, joy, and peace in the home that you so greatly desire has turned into a nightmare, one that you so want to banish from your memory (especially if you’re still recovering from another similar episode) and be healed of it.

What do you do when you desire beauty in your life but ugliness comes to invade instead? When peace and praise and joy are what you want ringing in your home, but instead, strifes and harsh words and weeping echo off the walls?

The following will save the day during those plowing through stormy, turbulent seas of this thing called life:

1. Pray

Do not let the ugly encounter end there: ugly. After the angry spouse or child has stormed out and slammed the door behind them, fall on your knees. Often, you don’t know what to say, where to start. You are filled with confusion, hurt, disappointment, and all other emotions whirling inside you like a hurricane. Just call out to God and tell it as it is. He has all the time in the world to listen. Tell Him all about it. Your. need. for. His. help. Unload the heavy weight that threatens to rip your chest apart. You may be discouraged about everything but NEVER BE DISCOURAGED IN PRAYING! Don’t give up on God; He will never give up on you! Pour out your heart. Confess, repent, beg.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:7).

2. Praise

Go up a few rungs higher. If you thought praise is only for those who feel like rejoicing, think again! With your heavy, grieving heart and unsettled mind, enter the Lord’s presence with solemn, soulful songs of praise. Sing even amid sobs, letting the tears flow freely. Let the lyrics be a prayer drawn from the depths of your soul. Sing until you feel the Savior’s embrace with His soothing words of acceptance and unfailing love. Sing until the clouds of ugliness is lifted off your heart and home. Sing until beauty blooms in every corner of your heart and spreads to every member of your family.

3. Intentionally Create a Reason for Thanksgiving

There was a long season in our life when my husband and I couldn’t seem to strike up harmony within our marriage. This was after we had reconciled (after more than two years of estrangement), had received the Lord’s salvation, and I was already very ill I had to stop working. It was apparent that the fruit of the Holy Spirit in either of us (though in varying magnitude) was a long time coming. We stood on different ends of the sensitivity scale. I am the kind of person who wants to talk heart-to-heart, to sort things out with hearts and minds wide open, and resolve them with words that bridge and heal. He was the kind who didn’t want to open up his heart and express himself, and when he’s prodded, the words came out wounding.

What I often did after having prayed and/or praised, I would cook a very special dish, set up the table and gather the kids around. I would lift up a prayer of thanksgiving for just… everything, then we would eat and celebrate despite the ugliness that had just occurred. Gathering around the table to partake of food especially cooked in love and celebrating with the Lord who makes it all possible will draw beauty into our lives and homes.

Banish the ugliness by intentionally creating beauty with God’s grace.

4. Witness

No, you don’t like to curl up in a corner and sulk and wallow in self-pity and misery. You are an overcomer, more than a conqueror. You will not speak anything that will dishonor God. You will not ambush a family member or a friend (or even your housekeeper or caregiver!) to catch all your bitter complaints. But this is what you will do: you will testify of the goodness, mercy, and faithfulness of God. You will talk about what He has done and continues to do in your life. You will highlight His works, not somebody’s faults and failings. Remembering God’s wondrous deeds and talking about them will take back the victory the devil has stolen.

5. Rest

Whether you were embroiled in a fight or you’re sick and waiting for healing, rest will do you a world of good. Rest will bring a lull to a stressful situation, a time to cool and calm down and steady your heart. Rest is a whisper to your spirit, “I care for you.” You may rest in different ways: sit and just be still, nap, read a psalm and meditate on it, have a tea for one, write on your journal (express your feelings on the pages or write a prayer), etc. However you choose to rest, it should bring you peace. It should push away ugly thoughts from your mind and bring in warmth and serenity to your soul like a flannel blanket in a stormy night. Rest refreshes the mind and body and enables you to think clearly.

6. Talk Heart-to-Heart

There should be a resolution to the conflict and a time for reconciliation. Communication is the key. Communicate, not to further play the blame game, but to build a bridge. “Communication translates the Greek word logos, which means to speak intelligently, to articulate a message…”*. You may invite the child involved into your room and talk heart-to-heart. If you’ve hurt their feelings, be humble enough to own up to your mistake and sincerely say sorry. Set a good example on how to humble down and honor others. With all love and gentleness, encourage them to open up their heart and talk.

If talking heart-to-heart is not a good idea (there are men who hate it, I think), write the involved party a letter. Your words should show no more of the accusations but a humbling down, an offering of peace and forgiveness or a plea for one.

7. Do Some Home Beautifying

Dwell not in the ugly thoughts and emotions. Do some “house-warming” to blow away those cobwebs from your mind. Arrange fresh flowers in a vase; light a scented candle; play praise music; plump up the throw pillows, change their cases; fix fresh fruits in a tray. Whatever you do to enliven your home, it should speak of your love to all those who live in it.

8. Do Some Gardening

This activity will surely cool your head and calm your heart. Cultivate the earth around the plants;  sprinkle fertilizer; deadhead, prune, trim; water the plants. Gardening will help you gather back joy into your life. Find refreshment and inspiration for your spirit while you’re out there: the cool breeze caressing your face, the sun’s rays seeping through the trees, the birds flitting from branch to branch, the sun-dappled grass, the spread of dandelions. All these God gives for your enjoyment. Whisper a “Thank You” toward heaven for His gifts.

9. Create Something

Dabble with watercolor, paint, draw, do origami. With your whole attention focused on your work to create something beautiful, you will not have time endlessly thinking and analyzing the ugly and hurtful events. You have prayed and placed everything in God’s hands. Now, stop fretting. You may do these activities with your kids. Craft together, laugh together. Create art, create fun, create love.

10. Take a Walk

Thank God for your strong two feet! Walking is a very rewarding activity but do it to draw closer to God. Use this quiet time to talk with Him, every step a praise, a remembrance of His loving-kindness.

Don’t fret about the troubles and trials that come, but let them bring us ever closer to our God.

*From A Word for the Day by J. D Watson, p. 76.

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Journey with Jesus,

Start Anew

In my life now, I often find myself “starting afresh”. Those little acts are wedged in any hour or day, all year round. They maybe interspersed in tiny moments, but for me, they could mean my very existence: my spiritual strength, restoration, and encouragement to carry on. They even restore peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, which to me are essential to living life.

I often have them mainly because of the life I’m living right now: lingering illness and physical difficulties.

start anew

One example is when I make the grave mistake of exhausting myself by talking too much. Sometimes when I’m feeling well, I get too excited to talk. I couldn’t seem to restrain myself until I realize I’m already winded. This always scares me because it often sends me frantically “recovering” for at least an hour, gasping for breath and going through excruciatingly difficult suffering in the process. I call it a gauntlet. During those “recoveries”, I always give myself a harsh scolding. Regret is a punishment in itself.

Regret because there might not be another tomorrow to do the things I was called to do. There might not be another opportunity to serve my family. To love.

Then as suffering gives way to relief (for me it’s almost heavenly), I am awash with new encouragement and inspiration to maintain a gentle and quiet spirit. When deliverance finally comes, I always know that it is another precious opportunity to be better than before, to walk on a ground higher than before. To treasure it all. Because it is all so fleeting.

That crossing over from suffering to recovery with a fresh inspiration and strong determination to be a better woman of God and walk worthy of Christ’s calling is a divine blessing drenched with grace.

But there are other crises we may find ourselves in, which are harder to “recover” from. I don’t know your specific experiences but below, I listed some of the sticky situations I usually find myself in, which send my emotions into a tailspin and my mind into confusion. They usually involve loss of self-control (you know, that fruit of the Holy Spirit).

When I resolved to truly love and honor my husband no matter what the circumstances, then find myself in the middle of a “word war” with him, earnestly contending and speaking out words I would later regret and receiving them in return, maybe twofold. The pain, confusion, regret, downright disappointment, and that loud, condemning voice of self-reproach could paralyze one from pulling oneself out of the quicksand and stepping into a broad, steady place.

In those times, I want to break down in deep anguish. I panic in fear of having offended God (I never want to do that). I fear His chastisement. I fear sliding back to deplorable sickness and suffering. So there were times that I echoed David’s desperate cries: “O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!” (Ps. 6:1). (Because of my long illness and suffering, I have become fearful of offending God with even the slightest mistake. I can’t help it that that has been its effect on me :( ).

When I lose my patience with my son when he disobeys me, doesn’t listen to me or do what I say, especially with his homework. I can see these – gentleness, patience, kindness – flying out of the window and yet, couldn’t stop it from happening.

When I haven’t been spiritually productive, minding things that don’t matter eternally, not hungering enough for God’s presence and touch, but soaking up myself with pleasures like a wholesome Hallmark movie or a period drama. And when I stay up so late reading or watching or just endlessly thinking – planning what to write, what to paint or where to go when I’m finally well and fully recovered (Felix often tells me that my brain is overused 😀 ) – then sleep wouldn’t come until wee hours of the morning which could bring mental agitation. I deeply regret those, too. A sign of my lack of self-discipline.

How do you stop things from spiralling and becoming hopelessly irredeemable?

Stop

Stop even though you think you’re not yet done. Stop even though you think “it’s too late anyway so what does it matter?” Stop because the Holy Spirit is telling you to. Stop because there’s grace when you do. Stop because you’ll be rewarded with your obedience, humility, and remorse.

Just stop. Stop what you’re doing. Stop talking. Stop fighting. Stop being angry, being impatient, being unkind, being ugly. JUST. STOP. Shut the mouth. Relish the instant quietness until it extends and expands into peacefulness, reaching and calming the nerves.

Pray

Pray at once. Right in the middle of the mess. Don’t let shame or self-condemnation stop you. Confess your faults and failures, your mistakes and ugliness. Tell God every detail: the remorse, the confusion, the hurt, the not-knowing-what-to-do-and-where-to-go-from-here. Beg for His endless mercies and forgiveness. Pray for light, clarity, and wisdom. Pray (and weep) until His peace descends and envelops your whole being and wraps itself around your heart and mind. Pray until you feel His acceptance like a warm embrace.

Praise

As soon as you get the chance, sing praises to Him. This will further banish the turmoil in your heart and mind. This will make you heal and recover better.

Start Anew

No, this is not only for those who receive the Lord Jesus and His salvation for the first time. It is also for us, His children already. Sometimes we feel so discouraged with ourselves, how we could be so slow learners, repeat offenders (even foolish!), that we don’t have the courage and confidence to face our Savior with our faults – again! But there is really nothing better to do (and nowhere to go) but that: present ourselves before Him, confessing our sins, acknowledging our mistakes and failures, and asking for more strength, light, and wisdom. The One who taught us to forgive seventy times seven, will He not do it Himself?

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” (Mat.  18:21-22)

And Apostle John encourages us:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

All these things – stopping, praying, praising, and starting anew – may come spontaneously, in between our moments. The inspiration and resolve to start afresh begins in the mind until it lights up the whole being. People around us need not know. We need not tell God about it (though He’s aware of the transformation happening within us; it’s His doing!). It is a quiet resolve, something that sustains us to the next moment or hour or day. A new burning desire to do it right. To do it God’s way.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing [we become weak; we break down; we unravel; we become undone], yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. (2 Cor. 4:16, annotations mine)

Starting anew, then, is really a continuing process, whether we have stumbled or are walking steadily. Morning by morning, we are given that endless opportunity to do better, be better, be like the Lord Jesus Christ. Lamentations 3:22-23 is like a rock oozing with grace:

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

Starting anew could happen any moment, any hour, any day all year round. Don’t be weary in doing it over and over again as the need arises. ‘Tis grace.

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Journey with Jesus,

Love Never Fails 2

Growing up, we learned that the opposite of love is hate. Then Joni Eareckson Tada wrote in one of her devotionals that lust is the opposite of love and went on to prove her point. But when the Lord put into my heart to write about the subject of love, this sentence hung on my mind and would not let go:

The opposite of love, agape love, is selfishness.

love never fails

In my head, I couldn’t string more than two sentences together, let alone construct a whole paragraph. I lost some sleep thinking about it. But because there was no other inspiration that came to me from the Lord, I thought He really wanted me to write about it. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I pray that you will learn from this short journey of love as much as I learned writing about it.

Agape is defined as “love as revealed in Jesus, seen as spiritual and selfless and a model for humanity.” Before the love and light of Jesus came into our lives, most if not all of us, were into all kinds of sin, not because we hated (that is, what we had known as the opposite of love), but because we were selfish. We only thought of ourselves: how to make us happy and satiated. There is no better embodiment of this than myself. Before I came into the light, I was wrapped up in my own self-love. And you know, if you only love yourself or your love for yourself is much higher than your love for others, like family, for instance, you don’t care if you shatter their hearts or ruin their lives. 

Why is there adultery, dishonesty, broken marriages and families? Is it not because we are selfish? Why  do same-sex individuals choose to couple and live together like a husband and wife and would fight to the death for their “rights”, rebelling against God’s commandment? Is it not because their love for themselves is greater than their fear of God? Materialism, covetousness, liberated lifestyle [not bound by traditional sexual and social roles] – don’t all these have their roots in selfishness?

We read the characteristics of love in the beautiful Love Chapter written by the apostle Paul:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

A selfish person cannot always be patient and kind. He will always think about his own welfare before others’. Grumbling is his native tongue. He is never free from feelings of envy and always finds the need to brag, for he is essentially proud and wants only to believe in and admire himself. A selfish person cannot “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things,” for he will always be looking out for himself, wanting to be free of all hassles, inconveniences, and encumbrances.

There is no true freedom, or power, or victory in selfishness.

But love is entirely on a different plane. When I began to feel the tugs of guilt on the magnitude of my sin and sought the Savior’s light, He also began to strip off my selfishness. That shift from selfishness to the Lord Jesus Christ was a journey of love. A love that is wrought with power, grace, and no small miracle. We begin to learn love the moment we shift our focus from ourselves to God and others.

I believe that love is not only a verb, but it has its own mighty power that conquers. Unlike selfishness which is vain and completely futile, love is the key ingredient for a God-sized miracle. When I received Jesus in my life, I began to look into the powers of this love, His love, as the single thread that holds everything together: freedom that comes with salvation, healing, peace, joy, faith, hope. The nails, no matter how big they were, weren’t what held Jesus at the cross. This is poignantly expressed in the song What Held You on the Cross?

What held you on the cross was more than just the nails.
With all the pain and suffering and all that you have lost
Your love for me could only be what held you on the cross.

This love was so powerful it resisted to the point of shedding blood, striving against sin (Heb. 12:4). A love so encompassing it saves from the fires of hell. A love so divine it lifts the redeemed into glory.

I believe in the power of love to heal and make whole.

This was what I always implored my husband during those painful strifes between us that hurt our faith and family. And I believed, had hindered my healing. I’ve always believed that dwelling on the side of love – active, fervent love – especially so in trying times, will shift the tide of defeat into an overwhelming victory. I believe that a love that is steadfast [firmly constant, unchanging, unmovable] through all life’s seasons and vicissitudes is the kind that conquers all.

I believe that unity bound by strong cords of love could usher in a great miracle. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecc. 4:12). And we know that the third strand is the Lord. When He is the third party in our marriages, we can conquer all. “For where two or three are gathered together in [His] name, there [He is] in the midst of them (Mat. 18:20).

When we gather before Him in love and peace (and not in strife) as a couple or as a family and without resentments in our hearts, He will meet us. And in His mighty presence, all things are possible.

Love is greater than faith. Apostle Paul wrote, “…And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). In another letter, he wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6 NIV). Also, Saint James challenges us with his words, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

Expressing our faith through love. Showing the evidence of our faith by our works. The parable of The Good Samaritan exemplifies best these teachings. A priest, then a Levite, both came down the road where the man who was left half-dead by thieves lay. Upon seeing him, they each passed by on the other side. The priest and the Levite have a religion but not love. But the Samaritan showed his faith in God through his mercy and love.

Love that flows from our hearts into our lips and hands has the power to bind up wounds and heal broken hearts and bodies.

Do you have a sick and suffering person in your life who needs your love and care? A hurting soul who needs healing and lifting up? God put them there for you to minister in mercy with your faith working mightily through love.

Never underestimate the power of love, the love of God [that] has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5). Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13).

(All definitions were taken from thefreedictionary.com).

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Quiet Strength {Dealing with Hurt}

I have just been in a situation that has greatly grieved me. All my attempts at a peaceful resolution and restoration of love had failed and in return, I was verbally attacked. The words were harsh and devoid of respect (that kind which should have been due to a much older person who has been constantly helpful and supportive through the years) and seemed final. Such was the venom vented by a heart and mind controlled not by the Holy Spirit. I rested my case; I stopped replying, and with my husband’s firm advice, turned off my cellphone and removed my sim. I would change my number; I would not fight back (it will be absolutely futile). I would be unreached.

dealing with hurt

And with that final act, I murmured, “Forgive, for they know not what they do.”

I crawled into the Lord’s secret place and drenched the succeeding hours with frenetic prayers. There was a moment that I asked in my heart amid unshed tears, “Why do they easily hurl attacking words like that, Lord? Why do they hate?”

The Lord answered me, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated Me before it hated you…They hated me without a cause” (John 15:18, 25).

The Lord Jesus who was pure and sinless and who did nothing but goodness, teaching and healing wherever He went, was hated and mocked and spat upon.

I was somewhat comforted, but the heaviness and sadness remained. I prayed a lot more until I was exhausted – physically, mentally, and emotionally. Then I put the matter to rest and rested in the Lord’s love, mercy, and embrace. I recited Psalm 91:1 in my mind over and over:

[She] that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.

And so, that’s what I did. I took cover in the Lord’s light and loving embrace where the arrows of the wicked one (through people he uses) couldn’t touch me. Jesus is my refuge and my fortress.

In 2014, I published my second book, Quiet Strength: And Learning from Women of the Bible Who Had ItI have found out that quiet strength amid life’s storms is both inherent to our blessedness and a spiritual practice. It is both the work of the Holy Spirit within us and an intentional effort to follow His voice and pursue peace and power through worship, prayer, God’s Word and meditation on it.

Quiet strength may not always appear triumphant, courageous, and unshakeable. It could also look sad, heavy laden, unsure, scared, and confused. These are processes it may go through as it gathers sense and meaning about things and circumstances, why they happen. With indestructible quiet strength residing in the depths of our being through the power of the Holy Spirit (sometimes it makes itself known during painfully difficult times), we understand that these are only temporary and should bring us to the Savior’s feet – spent but still throbbing with life and hope.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

That is the spirit and backbone of quiet strength. It draws its very life from the Fountain of Life Himself. A branch to the Vine. Quiet strength is strength that flows from the cross (our redemption) and from the everlasting life and love of Jesus. Without Him in our life, we would all be spiritually dead. Without hope and peace.

Quiet strength is choosing to dwell in humility and not to rise up in revenge. It is a readiness to forgive and relinquish all judgment to God. It is letting the Word and the Spirit be in control over all negative emotions that may ensue from the enemy’s attacks. It aligns itself with God’s Word in obtaining some kind of understanding, and in places where there is obscurity, in trusting that God is in control. He has a perfect plan and His purposes will stand.

Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (Rom. 12:19)

It is surrendering everything to God in prayer – every negative, crippling emotion, every unfruitful thought, every burden – and letting Him reign over every area of our life and our situation. It is putting Philippians 4:6-7 into practice:

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

I almost tremble in fear as I think of the possible retaliations I could concoct when someone has unjustly attacked me and I had not known the love and mercy of the Savior. I know my ruthless potential. I know I could be downright ugly and dark in the heart and soul. Maybe I would lose hours and hours of sleep as I burn with rage, evil will, and plans of revenge. It is a suffering of the lowest, cruelest kind. For it involves the very soul.

But what quiet strength is not is it is never ugly. On the contrary, it is a portrayal of an incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:4).

So I thank God that I am under grace! I am treading on grace, moment by moment, day by day. I’ve been redeemed from the bondage of sin and will no longer do the lusts of the devil (John 8:44). Because of Jesus.

Because of Him whose mercy has been real in my life, I can feel and release mercy even when attacked. I remain whole even when the enemy’s arrows had poked holes around my peace and joy. I am learning to truly practice the Lord’s teaching:

“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Mat. 5:44-45)

I am doing the praying for those who hate you part diligently, but I still need tons of prayers and conversations with God and listening to His voice to be able to do the rest from the heart. If we have to love our enemies – those who have unjustly and hurtfully attacked us – we need to do it with the heart. What does that look like? How does it feel like? I’m not sure. But perhaps an outpouring of prayers towards that person, prayers for his/her redemption and salvation, is a kind of agape love which the Lord requires of us? Maybe that is one facet of love?

However this love may look like or take its form, it should bring us peace and strength. Quiet strength is relying on God and His truth to shed light on our doubts and uncertainties. It is leaning on God’s wisdom and not on our own capacities.

Learning to love those who hate us should not undo us or make us vulnerable. In fact, it is a sign of strength, not of weakness. That is, strength only in Christ (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, remember?). For this is our assurance, that whatever the world does to us, however we are hated and attacked, however we are mocked and insulted, however we are rejected and despised, nothing and no one shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39).

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Journey with Jesus,