Spiritual Soil (Things to Ponder)

Everyday, I wonder and worry if the “soil” of our family and home is cultivated and watered enough for every member to grow and bear fruit. I often find myself asking, “Are my husband and I doing the best we can to nourish the soil of our family? Are we being shining lights to each other and to our children and are we setting good example for them to follow?” I believe that if we say we follow Jesus, it should be manifested in our words and actions, in our relationships and the very lives we live.

spiritual soil

During those moments of deep pondering and self-examination, I know that we’re not intentional and punctilious enough in nurturing our soil and this brings sighing and heaviness to my heart. Such problems usually come up when the spouses have varying magnitudes of faith and differing principles, attitudes, and practices. But then again, many times in the Bible, we are admonished to be of one mind.

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.  (Phil. 2:1-2, emphasis mine)

Fruitfulness in the Spirit is what the Lord desires for all of His followers.

“Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

So, we go to church every Sunday (for most of our Church, it’s even three times a week), the children sing in the choir, the family doesn’t watch trashy TV shows or movies or listen to secular music. But how about the moments and hours that make up the day? What does our family and home life look like?

There were times that I have broken down in tears because of the children’s gross misbehaviors and my failure to tackle them as the Bible’s teachings would have me do. We have this great desire to be nurturing parents, endeavoring to train our children in the love and admonition of the Lord, but when we see them disrespectful, disobedient, ungrateful, and lazy in all things except to waste hours on gadgets, we feel the weight of failure on our shoulders and it’s heartbreaking. We ask ourselves, “What more should be done?”

We bathe our family with prayers so that in one accord, we will all be obedient and pleasing in God’s sight, fervently following Him and His will, so that we will be living out Apostle Peter’s teaching:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous.” (1 Pet. 3:8)

But sometimes, even our prayers seem not enough and we can’t seem to see much fruit.

People in our church, especially the choir leaders, praise our children’s quiet behavior in Sunday school and choir practices. I thank God for working on them to behave properly outside our home. They are not rowdy as other children. No, ma’am. They are shy, especially Hannah, to a fault.

But I see in our children things that the world does not see. And what I see breaks my heart. I know that families and homes differ from one another. But even Christian homes have their problems. I can see the huge difference between our life in the old days and our children’s life now. I grew up in a small, slumbrous town in a faraway province where life was as simple as you could get. Frivolity was out, for life, generally, bordered on poverty.

In that uncomplicated way of life, people were industrious. Young girls could help around the house: clean, cook, wash dirty dishes and laundry, and care for baby siblings, or around the farm (for those who lived in the barrios). Young people were respectful, obedient, responsible. They looked up and listened to older people. And they had a deep sense of gratitude.

I lament that this generation of young people displays an entirely different attitude. It’s kind of bratty, selfish, self-indulgent, insolent, indolent, ungrateful, prideful. We see them on TV and the Internet. And when we see traces of these on our children, oh, how it rips our hearts!

I’m not saying that our children, Hannah and Tim, are completely all that. No, they are fairly good kids who generally bring us joy. Hannah, by God’s grace, is now “under observation” for the Youth Choir and she’s assigned church chores like maintaining cleanliness in the toilets during services, etc. As for Tim, he sings in the Children’s Choir, attends Sunday School diligently and I can see that he is developing an awareness of the Bible’s teachings.

But it is evident that they still lack in the more important things: love and kindness toward one another, humility, gratefulness, respect, and also industriousness. It only takes a small act of unkindness or indifference to see what is utterly wrong, like seeing a child pick up her own used glass to bring to the sink and intentionally leave the other beside it just because it’s her brother’s. Or when they are often rude to one another, speaking biting or cold remarks. What does that mean?!

If we’re sensitive parents who see beneath such subtle acts, we would not dismiss and consider them as not worthy of our attention. We would discern at once that there’s an underlying reason to them. The children could be cold and uncaring and those are serious things that need to be addressed.

When I see our children displaying a lack in any of the things mentioned above, I feel really sad and frustrated and this compels me to strive harder: to be a more effective “life coach” to them who leads by example. And I pray the more, pleadingly and unrelentingly.

I always try to examine myself when failures happen. I strive to be better: a better wife, mom, person,  leader, friend. A better role model. More Christlike. That’s the heart of my prayers lately.

I’ve been asking myself, “Do our marriage, family, and home provide rich soil for spiritual growth for each and everyone of us? Does our relationship (my husband’s and mine) set a good example about relationships, honor, respect, love, and kindness? Do we intentionally live a life that exemplifies the Bible’s teachings which our children can observe and learn?”

Do we seek to cultivate the ground, the soil in which their minds, hearts, and souls will develop, grow, flourish, and bear much fruit?

Is each one of us a rich soil in which others could grow well and thrive?

Do we build up others or bring them down? Do we heal or do we inflict wound? Do we speak words that minister grace to others or do we speak to incite contentions, discouragements, strifes, resentments, or bitterness? Do we intentionally bring hope and encouragement for a soul to grow and thrive or do we unmindfully bring out the worst in others? Do we strive to coax out goodness and beauty in others or do we live indifferently, minding only our own welfare and growth?

Well, is there real growth when we think and work only for ourselves? Isn’t growth happens when we live outside of ourselves and reach out to others also? There is no growth when there is no expansion.

But not everyone thinks and desires the same things as we do. Others may not want to be in and if it is a spouse, that would be difficult. If the parents are not of one mind and desire or of varying degree of commitment in leading the family into rich, verdant pastures of spiritual growth, that can be a problem. It will be too taxing to be hauling the burden on your own or on unequal or opposing forces. The ship cannot sail smoothly if the winds are contrary.

(Photo from Pinterest).

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A Mother’s Heart

The night before the kids’ trip to Island Cove, sleep eluded me, as is often the case when my unused, atrophied legs ache and my mind is so active, flitting from one thought to another. No, I wasn’t thinking about problems and worries. My brain just wants to think often even during sleeping time :D. Then added to that was the sadness that hovered over my heart and soul, knowing that I wouldn’t still be traveling with them after heaps of faith and prayers. I spent the sleepless hours praying for their safe travels, not wanting to be disturbed anymore once sleep came. And it did at past 4 AM. When the kids each took turns in kissing me goodbye at 6:30, I didn’t even bother to open my eyes.

A Mother's Heart

I wanted to sleep until noon, that way, I wouldn’t spend too long a time thinking about them going out of town without me and wallowing in loneliness. But at 9:35, I was wide awake. I sat up, hauling my heavy heart. And finally, I gave in to tears.

But I didn’t want to linger in that place too long. Futile. Although, admittedly, my mind wanted to speculate on how it would have been pure delight to hold my children’s hands on either side of me as we walk around the resort, or luxuriate in the cheerful chatter around the table as we investigate the menu, or hear the peals of Tim’s laughter as he enjoys my company in an outing for the very first time. Those are all delicious thoughts but could tear my heart and peace apart. So, I shunned them and went another way. I proceeded with my day and shoved sadness aside.

I was finishing up my watercolor painting of blue Himalayan poppies when I received a text message from my boy using his Dad’s cellphone, “Hi, Mom! I like what you chose for vacation!” He attached an elephant emoji which got me thinking, “Did he really see an elephant there?” But that didn’t really matter for my mother’s heart had soared, shedding off all heaviness!

Tim had another message for me: “I purely had fun out here!”

That was all I needed and my heart was full. The faithful Lord had filled me up once again even in the midst of the desert.

I’ve been ill for 13 years now, some years sicker and weaker, other years, partially recovered and stronger. It’s been a long, arduous journey, but I can’t think of a single time that I had totally relinquished hope and chosen to quit. Even when my soul cried out to be released from all the suffering, my mother’s heart and mind held on and resisted the wave of hopelessness and defeat.

I am a warrior (the tears are coming now). These arms and hands had been engaged in battles long and hard. If Jacob wrestled with God and fought for His blessing overnight that he got a broken thigh in the process, I have been wrestling with God, fighting tooth and nail for my own blessing these past 13 years (crying). Bloodied, many times broken, bruised, beaten, left for dead at times, but still, I stay in the ring with Him.

The mercy that I fight so hard for is the same mercy that would lift me up to my feet every now and then even before the referee has counted to 10.

What holds me down on earth when I could wish to be with the Lord where “God shall wipe away all tears from [my] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain…” (Rev. 21:4)? It’s my children. I don’t want them to be motherless. I fight for them. I fight for my life. I fight for length of life. I claim God’s promises (He wants us to!). I believe I’m the best person for the job: mothering my own children. Otherwise, why would God give them to me?

So, I hold onto His mercies, to His compassionate heart. He knows the mother’s heart. He understands how it beats. So everyday, I ask boldly, and everyday, I thank Him that I’m still here with my family.

What drove Jacob to wrestle with God all night? He was to meet his brother Esau after so many years. Years before, he fled Esau’s wrath because he stole their father’s blessings intended for his brother. Now, he was scared for his life and those of his wives and children. He needed God to bless him and preserve him and all of his.

It’s the same thing with a mother fighting for her life and all of hers.

I maybe weak and unable to walk and travel, but by God’s grace, I do my best to be a strong presence in our family. I hold down my role as a mother and manage my dominion (our home) with God’s love, wisdom, and guidance. I plan. I direct. I act. All from my throne room that is our bedroom :). No one assists the kids with schoolwork but me. I discipline them through heart-to-heart talks, conversations, and letters. I have appointed myself as their life coach, guiding and teaching them the lessons I’ve learned in all of my 48 years of life. I tell them stories of my childhood, simple yet rich, my growing up years, the hard, gruelling years of high school and college – all of them contributing to the development of my character, who and what I am now.

I shop for our clothes online. Oh, thank God for the Internet and online shops! My Hannah has the habit of resisting my choices, but I have also appointed myself as her stylist (whether she likes it or not) and my husband’s :) . Hannah has no fashion sense (yet). We are not worldly fashionable people (no more of that since we are Christ followers), but she doesn’t have a clue as to what goes well together. I don’t want her going out looking like young Cosette in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I want that the Lord Jesus is glorified in and through her: A blessed child of God.

I train them to read good books. And now that Hannah is more mature, I advise her to read the Bible everyday and other Christian devotionals. Video games are out. I encourage them in the arts and hone their talents. They both play the piano. I teach them many things, but most of all, together with my husband, we do our best to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).

We teach them gratitude. In this selfish, pampered world of instant gratification, I can see that it’s hard for them to grasp the deep meaning of gratefulness. That kind that emanates from the heart and soul. But we fight for their hearts and souls, too, in prayer. Unceasing prayers, like water that flows interminably on stones, polishing them until smooth and shiny, will do its powerful work on our children overtime.

I cannot count the times that my heart has been wounded by my own people. I had cried in anger, frustration, regret, weariness, disappointment, discouragement, and sheer sadness. But motherhood is a job that you don’t want to quit. And by God’s immense grace, I’m not quitting.

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A Foothold

One Sunday morning, Hannah comes to me. Her hesitance gives me a hint that there’s something weighing her down. She asks me if she can take the day off from church and just stay home to watch the live webcast. She explains that the previous weeks where they had series of assessments in school had stressed her out and triggered her panic attacks. I agree to her request to rest at home for Sabbath but I probe her deeper about this recurring problem.

a_foothold

She had confided this to me many months back, how she had begun to experience a kind of nervousness, and that when she Googled her symptoms, she learned she had panic attacks. I can’t be sure if what she experiences are panic attacks. I haven’t seen her act “nervous” except that she would adamantly refuse to do something she had decided not to do, like participating in piano recital last summer and refusing to go up to Youth Choir in Church. She’s already 14, but she’s still in Children’s Choir.

Hannah grew up painfully shy. Too shy that it crippled her to do even the things she would have loved to do, like joining in games in birthday parties. When we went to birthday parties when she was a little girl, she would just watch teary-eyed as other kids won prizes in games. She wanted to get those prizes, too, but she was too paralyzed by fear to make the few steps to the front. In pre-school, she memorized and practiced speeches for special events, but when the day came, she wouldn’t even dare step on the stage, let alone open her mouth to speak. She would clam up and no one could make her perform. This happened not only once or twice and it really broke my heart.

I believe that she inherited that shyness from me. It was the same for me growing up. But when I began attending school, I bravely faced my fears to be able to compete with other kids. And so, I performed in both academics and extra-curricular activities, and I performed well. But for my Hannah, although she was a good student and performed well in exams, she avoided reciting as much as possible all through grade school.

Years passed and tons of prayers lifted up and we saw our Hannah performing at the Meralco Theater for her piano recital. It was nothing short of a miracle! With the Lord’s love and mercy, my girl was finally able to perform in front of a huge crowd. For three consecutive years, she conquered both her fears and the stage. We were so proud of her triumphs.

Also, now that she is in Junior High, she’s learning to be more active and participative in school activities. She has also developed friendships with a handful of her girl classmates and has learned to become social, going out with them every now and then. (But that is after I have peppered her with the details :). I don’t fail to remind her to let her light shine especially when she’s with her friends).

But apparently, she has never really shed off her timidity completely. And now, has it developed into panic attacks?

Having grown up in Church, Hannah is not your regular teenager. She doesn’t follow the ways of the world unlike most of her secular peers. I can see her doing her best to obey the Bible’s teachings. But mothers can never be complacent. I still probed her what her faults might be, why she was having those panic attacks. I had begun to pray for her incessantly the first time she confided in me. I thought they were gone. I sent her emails, discussing verses from the Bible that I hoped would help her. This time, I pointed out some of her shortcomings that she needed to work on.

I reminded her that we had not received the spirit of fear but of love, power, and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). If she coddles those panic attacks, what kind of spirit is dwelling in her heart? I asked her. But even as I said those things, I was well aware of my own situation. I’m not a stranger to fears, nervousness, anxiety and panic attacks. I know I had accumulated them in my system because of my terrifying illness and suffering. As I had mentioned in a previous post, even if you’re a Christian doing your best to live victorious, prolonged suffering could still be traumatic. And so, I know how excruciatingly hard it is to battle fears.

I grieve both for my daughter and myself as we walk this same path, although I always keep a brave and courageous front. I believe that’s what mothers do. And even though I have my own ailing body to think about and now added to that are my daughter’s issues, I feel comforted by the fact that I can heap everything at my Lord Jesus’ feet in prayer. And more unceasing prayers at that! Even so, I won’t be discouraged, for it cannot be that He won’t listen to them.

But let’s go back to the subject as to why Christians suffer. The Bible tells us that the Lord Jesus Christ came to give us abundant life (see John 10:10). But for many of His present-day followers, the opposite is true: they live being robbed of health, strength, courage, peace, joy, and prosperity by the enemy. They are oppressed both by fears and physical suffering. Why, if Apostle Peter has written thus?

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Pet. 3-4 ESV)

Why do many of us tarry long in the wilderness and can’t seem to arrive at our Promised Lands, that place of abundant life the Lord has promised? There is just one way to that place and we know it’s Him. But we already have Him. We can say that we abide in Him and His Word abides in us. We do our best to obey Him, yes. What else must be done? These and more are questions I still wring my heart hard to try to find answers to.

What aren’t we surrendering?

The first time this question popped up in my mind, tears threatened to rise up my throat as I felt the magnitude of God’s requirements it carried. The question is loaded, like a camel saddled with burdens and clouds pregnant with rainstorm. Yet, it’s important to try to answer it for it will determine how we will live our lives on earth.

What aren’t we surrendering? God wants our all.

The fullness of our love?

Unforgiveness?

Anger?

Bitterness?

Doubts?

Pride of life?

Time?

Comfort?

Secret pleasures?

Worldly desires?

Secular pastimes?

Have we made an idol of our careers? Our pursuits? Our possessions? Our selves?

Where are we disobeying?

Maybe that piece of unsurrender in our hearts is the same space the enemy has taken up. His foothold. And that is what hinders our abundant life? That’s why Apostle Paul warns: Do not give the devil a foothold (Eph. 4:27).

God has given us His precious and very great promise — the Holy Spirit. It is through Him that we can partake of the divine nature. It is through Him that we can escape the corruption of the world because of evil desires. It is Him who empowers us to live godly lives. This then should be our daily goal: To ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Let us prepare our hearts everyday to be His sanctuary.

(Photo credit: Perla Frisberg).

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Around My Mobile Kitchen

One of the deciding factors when we bought the house we’re living in now was the spacious kitchen. I was impressed with the kitchen; obviously, the former owner loved to cook. The center island is big enough to accommodate a family of 6 (and we’re only 4!). Indeed, our kitchen is larger than the master bedroom and adjoining bathroom combined. Then, two years ago, we ripped off the old tiled countertops and replaced them with granite. Our kitchen now looks much more modern and sleek than ever before. Spacious and sleek. But the thing is – I never cook there. That is, since I fell ill in 2003.

To support my desire to cook and bake for the family (and help me pass the time of being homebound because of my illness), my husband had a mobile kitchen built for me. It’s made of wood, sturdy, and has shelves and wheels. It’s stationed at the far corner of our bedroom (last year, we acquired a portion of our patio to extend our bedroom). Since then, my mobile kitchen has become the hub of our family’s activities.

It is the gatherer of the family even, and especially, amid pain and turmoil to thank God for His mercies. For I have found out that the powerful antidote to rifts, divisions, and misunderstandings is a table laden with home cooked goodness sprinkled with sacrificial love and a mother’s straining for Christ’s light and beauty amid the ugly. At times, I call my mobile kitchen our thanksgiving table as hurting and hostile hearts are transformed in humility and gratitude and in surrender to Jesus’ faithful love.

A silent witness to a number of angry and painful exchange of words and tears shed, it is also a very tangible presence in victories won and celebrations of God’s deliverances. The hearer of expressions of regret, teary reconciliations, and heartwarming affirmations of love. And stories. Hundreds of them. Stories of long ago, of butterflies and fireflies, and of the very recent.

We lay our Bible on it, after the dishes have been cleared and the crumbs wiped out, to read and talk about the everlasting words that keep us alive and knitted together and that supply our peace and joy and every need and more. Much more.

Countless numbers of muffins, breads, cookies, and liters of ice cream, and other scrumptious desserts have “come into being” on my mobile kitchen, as well as generous servings of laughter, banter, and love.

School works, reviews, repairs by the handyman husband, chess games, and endless Facebooking happen around my mobile kitchen.

You prepare a table before me…
My cup runs over. (Part of Ps. 23:5)

My mobile kitchen is NOT a reminder of my disability but of God’s goodness and faithfulness and His constant presence in the lives of His children – in celebrations and in griefs, in triumphs, failures, and getting back up again. It tells the story of His mercies bestowed every morning and told over and over again. 

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Christian Discipline: When We Make Our Possessions Our Gods

No, this is not a heavy-handed sermon on idolatry (although I know that there a lot of people out there who have shifted their affections from the living God to things that give them pleasure). The Bible says that when we obsessively covet something, that is idolatry.

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5, emphasis mine)

This is about my daughter Hannah. And I’m not writing this to put her down or embarrass her. I’m sharing this so we can all learn the lesson.

Before Hannah learned to use a cellphone, she had a beautiful, exciting life. When she was 5 or 6, she loved art. She still does today but she rarely has time. When I went to the hospital to give birth to Tim, she shoved a shoebox and a big brown envelop towards me filled with her arts and crafts she especially prepared for my stay in the hospital. “To remember me by, Mom” were her parting words.

She used to love to play, swinging in the park high up in the air or biking around the neighborhood, her long hair flying with the wind. She had an appreciation of nature – examining bugs and insects and flowers even the tiniest ones. And she never missed to bring me flowers from her forays around our village. If she didn’t see fresh ones from the stalks, she picked up fallen frangipanis from the ground. But she grew up and learned other things, things that are not necessarily beneficial.

She has a natural computer acumen, almost instinctive. Are children of this age born with it? Hannah coaches me in photo editing and in designing my upcoming book! Needless to say, she knows a lot that I didn’t know about. But her academic performance took a downturn when she wrapped her life around her gadgets. Being strictly disciplined by us in using the laptop (only school work), she maximized the use of her Android cellphone. I gave it to her last Christmas so she could call us when she was away.

But as I’ve said, she wrapped her whole life around it, neglecting other things. I believe this is the reason why she didn’t receive a medal in academic excellence this year, only gold and silver certificates. This summer, her obsession of her cellphone got worse. Of course, she still does the chores she’s assigned, but her consciousness is with her gadgets. She received a big case of art materials from her aunt and uncle from the states but she has not opened it yet. She has many unread  books in the library but they remain unread. After her successful piano recital 2 weeks ago, she has not sat down in front of the piano to play some tunes. I told her to research some praise music pieces to learn so we can give glory to God with them, but she chooses to hole up in the guest room tinkering with her cellphone.

My patience maxed out yesterday morning. I called her in the room and gave her a dressing down. I explained to her what was happening with her life because of her obsession with gadgets. Her cellphone was the first thing she reached for in the morning and the last thing she laid aside at night. I reminded her that she has been neglecting to pray and praise before bedtime. I told her how she has traded life with her cellphone which is impotent. Yes, I told her how she has made her cell phone her god. It hurt I know, but Proverbs 27:5 says, “A spoken reprimand is better than approval that’s never expressed” (MSG).

Everything that takes us away from the worship of the living God and steals our love for Him is from the devil. That is his main goal: to create gods out of our possessions.

I opened my Bible and brought her to Revelation 2:2-4:

“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. 4 Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Emphasis mine).

I reminded her that the Lord Jesus Christ is our first love, our joy, our life! That He died on the cross to give us life, for we were dead in our sins. But He came to give us life and that life is abundant! Abundant in love and joy and excitement with our fellowship with Him, with the people in our lives and the gifts He gave us, like music, art, play, talents, etc.

With tears in my eyes and the hairs of my arms standing up, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as I implored her to renew her love for the Lord and enjoy the life He has given.

There’s more. When I told her gently but firmly that I needed to take back the cellphone , she was displeased. I told her that it was the enemy who has taken a foothold on her that was resisting. If it was the Holy Spirit, she should have humbled down and willingly surrendered her cellphone. I explained to her that. In the end, I knew my words found their way to her heart, by the grace of God.

 The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. (John 10:10)

We must redeem our children from the gods of this world.

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Parenting Teens

My soul is burdened with the stories of some of the children of Christian brethren who have strayed from the Lord. What is more perplexing is that, the parents of these rebellious youngsters are faithful in serving God. I’ve heard that some have yielded to drug addiction and other vices, teen pregnancy, and marrying young only to end up in separation. I’m puzzled as well as depressed that this should happen considering that these families serve the one true living God. As testimonies of former drug addicts and such echo from the pulpit, how they have been delivered from their addictions and vices that had enslaved them, stories about rebellious, backsliding teenagers are discussed privately.

I look at other girls and boys whose families have religions but don’t have personal relationships with the Lord, and yet, they have discipline. They respect and obey their parents and bring them honor.

So, what could be wrong with some of these Christian families who are laden with teenage rebellion? One mother who is also close to us has lamented that she and her husband have long given up on their straying daughter. Their daughter has had an on-and-off relationship with the Lord through the years. But lately, after her young marriage broke apart, she turned to drugs and will not leave it. Her marriage was destroyed because of her vices that she couldn’t give up. But her parents continue to serve the Lord faithfully. Such a story is truly lamentable.

Although prayer is paramount in raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, we don’t stop there. As our children enter into adolescence, the more vigilant we should be in guiding them. A regular heart-to-heart talk is a must. We use the teachings of the Bible as our guide. There is a need for parents to instill in the minds of their youngsters the fear of God. For them to understand that if they fear God, they must also need to honor Him in their minds, hearts, bodies, and in the way they live. There must develop in them an appreciation of the goodness of the Lord. It is important, therefore, that the parents exemplify a life of gratitude. One of the roots of rebellion is ingratitude. 

Another mother told the story of her teenage daughter who became pregnant at a very young age. When the daughter confessed her pregnancy to her mother, the mother forewent questioning her. She did not ask her any questions. She didn’t even bother asking who the boyfriend was. I admit I was incensed when I heard it. The daughter was so young that there was a problem with the pregnancy, her ovary being not fully developed.

If parents are afraid to discipline their children and set rules and boundaries, they are actually driving them to destruction.

He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly. (Prov. 13:24)

I am not advocating for parents to hit their children. What I want to emphasise here is the strict discipline that we need to enforce. We don’t want them to turn their backs to the Lord and go astray. We don’t want them to take lightly the salvation that they have received. This is serious business for parents.

Mothers, don’t be afraid to talk to your teenage children. Prov. 31:26 says “She opens her mouth with wisdom…”. Ask God for wisdom and anointing, that your words will have power over them.

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Waiting and Watching

After Friday overnight service at around 4:30 in the morning, I heard a taxi stop at our gate. I knew it was my beloved husband arriving from the airport. He traveled to Shanghai, China to attend a cosmetic ingredients exhibit and conference. Immediately, I opened the CCTV to see him enter. But instead of opening the pedestrian gate with his key, he reached out his arm for the lockbar of the garage gate and tried to open it. I knew then that he didn’t have his key. So, I rang the bell for the maid to open for him. When I looked at the CCTV again, he was gone. Before the maid could open the main door, I saw my husband jump over the fence. As he landed on the ground, I imagined a thief trying to stealthily enter our house.

As I watched him haul his luggage and hand-carried bags, my thoughts wandered to the “thief of the night” which the Bible speaks of.

But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. 2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. (1 Thess. 5:1-2)

A thought flitted in my mind: Can I catch the coming of the Lord Jesus through my CCTV camera? Maybe if I keep on watching and waiting for Him, I just might. I smiled at my silliness. But the thought remained with me for days. Are we faithfully waiting and watching for His coming? Are we living like He might come any day, any hour, any moment now? What if He comes just when we are not watching? When we are busy pursuing other things, non-spiritual things? I know sometimes I live like He’s not coming any time soon. Not in my lifetime anyway. But such thoughts will only dampen our fervency in following and serving Him.

As I look at photos and updates of some of my younger JMCIM brethren on my FB newsfeed, I’m distressed at how they are being influenced by this ultra-modern generation. I can see that holiness is being compromised. I remember the beloved Hon. Asst. Pastor Lina C. Almeda teaching fiercely about following a life of holiness. In all the days of her life, she breathed it. In the pulpit, she lamented the state of some of the Church’s youth who strayed from the teachings of the Bible, pursuing worldly pleasures and breaking their parents’ hearts. I thank the Lord that her teachings on living a holy life were established in my heart and they serve as my guide. They are constant reminders for me to exemplify a life of holiness and to teach it to my children in turn.

The youth can easily fall into temptations, what with the Internet and all. Even parents can be influenced by the modern thinking of their children if they are lax and not watchful. I’ve observed that there are Christian parents who are afraid to rebuke their erring teenagers. Hence, they turn away from the teachings of the Bible and fail to follow the way of holiness.

Do we love the pleasures of this world so much that we don’t anticipate the coming of our Lord and Savior with eagerness and watchfulness?

 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping [not doing the things He has called us to do]. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:35-37 NIV, annotations mine)

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Teaching Kids to Forgive

On Tuesday morning, the two cousins finally met. Tim came near to 4-year old Janica and said, “Hi Janica!” And hugged her happily. It’s my niece Janica’s first time to visit the Philippines with her parents, and Hannah and Tim had been excitedly waiting for their arrival. Tim and Janica instantly hit it off and became friends. Or so we thought. After a few hours of playing, they were already quarrelling. It had something to do with the rules of a board game they were playing. Janica was at once on the offensive. Clutching Hannah’s hand, she said in a slightly angry voice, “He’s a bad boy! Let’s play upstairs but we’ll not include that boy!”

(image source)

My older sister (not Janica’s Mom) and I looked at each other, surprised, as Tim snuggled close to me, shocked and hurt. My sister and I understood that the two kids have different cultural backgrounds and maybe, Janica is used to communicating with kids in school that way. Tim started to cry silently but he was also mad. All three of us (my sister, Hannah, and me) tried to reconcile the two. We were able to convince Janica that Tim was not bad and she needed to say sorry. And she did. Slowly, she approached Tim and hugged him. But Tim remained hostile. Twice, Janica approached him to reconcile, but Tim had made up his mind. He was angry and sulky.

After everyone left for the Duty Free shop, I talked to Tim. I felt there was an urgency that the two young cousins must patch up and become good friends. Janica’s vacation is just very short. I tried again to convince him to accept Janica’s apology. But he answered angrily, “She said I’m a bad boy. She’s not my friend and she can go back to the states!” Huh?

“Tim, you know Lord Jesus, right? That He is Lord and King and He lives in heaven but came down to earth because He loved the people? The people were not doing good. So, dearest Jesus came to save them so that they would not all go to hell. Because He loved them so much. He loves us so much. Jesus was good to them but they crucified Him. They wanted Him to die. They said bad words to Him that hurt Him. But do you know what He did?”

Tim was silently listening.

“He forgave them! He did not get angry at  them. Even if they hurt Him, He still forgave them. And He wants that we must also forgive those who hurt us. Janica hurt you but she was sorry. You must forgive her and become friends again.” Still, he refused.

“If you will not forgive her, the Lord will not forgive you. He will not listen to your prayers and will not give you what you’re asking for. It’s in the Bible. Do you want us to read it?”

“Yes.”

I opened my virtual Bible to Matthew 6:14-15:

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

He read it, twice.

“What are sins, Mommy?”

“Sins are the bad things people do, like saying words that hurt. Would you like us to pray so that dearest Jesus will teach Tim to forgive?” He nodded. So we prayed and Tim promised that he would hug Janica when he arrived from school and tell her he loved her and that they were friends.

When Tim arrived from school in the afternoon, Janica ran to him and said, “I’m sorry I got mad at you!” They hugged. They played all afternoon until night.

If only we adults had the same humility like a child’s, maybe then there’d be lesser conflicts in the world and more reconciliations, don’t you think so? :)

“…Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mat. 18:3-4)

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Thankfulness

Since we can’t go away for vacations even during long holidays, my husband and I treated our kids to Walt Disney’s Holiday on Ice show at the Araneta Coliseum the Saturday after Christmas. My husband chose the location which was nearer the ice rink but it also meant pricier tickets. But we wanted to make the kids happy, so it didn’t really matter. Just to see them so excited about the show brought gladness to our hearts.

Late in the afternoon when they returned, I was anticipating them to be bursting with excitement and stories of their date with Walt Disney characters. But I was surprised to see them gloomy and sulky and not speaking a word. When I asked why, Hannah said that their Dad did not allow them to buy souvenirs. Oh. She said Tim wanted the light wand but Dad said there was no way he was buying it (P700 plus ~ $20). “Oh, yes, I wouldn’t have allowed that, either,” I said.

When their Dad came into the room, he murmured what ungrateful kids they were, shaking his head in disappointment. I was very disappointed, too. And sad. I just murmured for my husband to hear, “We’ll need to explain it to them. This is a serious matter and must be handled properly.”

Hannah quietly left the room while Tim continued to sulk, expressing his discontent by saying things like, “I’ll just give away all my toys because Daddy didn’t buy me the light wand.” And so it went.

As I pondered on this thing, I knew how far our old life in the province was compared to the life our kids were having now. When we were kids, life was hard. And even though our father worked in Guam, USA, life in our small town was generally simple, without the modern-day comforts. We were always grateful for what we received and enjoyed every moment of every treat that we were given, like a trip to the beach, for they were few and far between.

Yes, the life our children are exposed to now is far different from what my husband and I had. They are two different worlds. And I understood that we couldn’t force our kids to live that life which they hadn’t known. But we never wanted to rear our kids as spoiled brats, either.

In the early evening after I had rested, I called for them. I gently but firmly told them to bring their own plastic chairs and sit in front of me for we were going to talk about something very important. They were quiet now and subdued. In fact, they were no longer sulking. I began to tell them about the King who wore a sparkling robe and a crown that was bedecked with priceless jewels and who sat on a magnificent throne in heaven. And this King chose to come to earth, become a baby and be born in a manger.

“Do you know what a manger is?” I looked at Tim.

“It’s a — crib?” He answered, smiling.

“Yes, but this one is not made of brass and not lined with soft beddings like your comfortable flannel. A manger is actually a feeding trough where barn animals like cows, carabaos, horses, and sheep eat. And because these animals eat grass, what do you find in the manger?”

“Grass,” Tim answered quietly.

“Yes, and that also served as the bedding for the baby King, our Savior Jesus Christ. His mother Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloths. They didn’t even have cute baby clothes or pampers.” I then demonstrated to them what a swaddling cloth was and how to use it. It’s just a long piece of cloth.

“Why did the Lord Jesus choose to be born that way  – prickly manger for a bed in a barn where animal dung and noise could disturb Him – and not in a very comfortable house or hotel?”

“To teach us to be humble,” Hannah answered.

“Yes. And to teach us that material things don’t really matter but love. He wanted to show His great love for us.”

I then proceeded to tell them about the things we enjoy: our big house, their rooms and comfortable beds, their clothes, the cars, the food on the table, their toys, their Mom and Dad who love and care for them. I reminded them how blessed they are, even going to shows like Walt Disney’s, while there are many children around the world who don’t even have food to eat.

I looked at two pairs of eyes becoming bigger and rounder. The two had become so quiet and listening intently, taking in my every word. My voice began to crack as I continued to tell them about the importance of being thankful with all their hearts in everything.

“Dad and Mom treated you to a wonderful show but when you got home, all you did was —“

“— complain.” Tim butted in. Hannah and I burst out laughing. Tim, chastened, sounded like a grown-up.

But before I was finished, I could see how sorry they were. We closed in prayer, with bowed heads and raised arms, expressing our deep gratitude to the Lord for all His goodness and blessings. After the Amen, they both hugged me tightly and told me how thankful they were for everything.

 In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:18)

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When What You Really Want for Christmas is Christ

Saturday, our household was in a flurry as everyone looked for the missing hurricane glasses (see picture below). The maids said they had emptied out the whole cabinet where the Christmas decors were kept. No hurricane glasses. Toward the afternoon, I was beginning to resign myself that they were gone forever. Hannah and I toyed on a theory: Maybe the past maids broke them while we were away on New Year’s Day and dumped them in the garbage. Ugh! It hurt just to think about it. I liked those hurricane glasses from DaySpring and I had used them only once.

Tim left for the mall with his Dad. I settled to take a nap and before sleep set in, I thought on these.

The first week of December is gone and yet, we’re not done decorating. A few wreaths have not yet been hung; candles are not put in their places; poinsettia plants have not been bought. And the hurricane glasses cannot be found. The top of the piano will be bare this year. Well, come to think of it — it doesn’t really matter. The decorating can be left half-finished and who cares? Well, we do care because we look at our neighbors and how they have completed their decors inside and out and last month yet! But wait, if I don’t consider other people’s actions, I wouldn’t really care if our decors are not perfect. Why do I keep doing things which are an effect of what other people do? And why do we get ourselves so stressed up during this season? Not to mention the menu planning for Christmas Eve dinner (noche buena for the Philippines), the shopping, gift-wrapping, kids’  Christmas parties in school, etc.

I feel weary just by thinking about it. But this time, I will not force myself to get up and finish all the decorating (for the new maids don’t know where to put what). This time, I will not focus myself on perfecting decorations, I want to think about only One. I want to pursue Him as I’ve done the whole year. Christmas is supposed to be a time to celebrate Jesus and what He means to us, but it has become so commercialized, so stylized that its wonder and solemnity have been diluted to something material.

Can I just meditate on Him and His goodness as I lie here resting in His love? Can I just have Christmas that is full of the glory of the Savior and not the glittering lights plugged to electricity? One friend wrote on FB, after putting up their Christmas tree and completing the decorations in early-November: “It’s good to be done early so you can enjoy it longer.” I believe that’s the general sentiment of the whole Christendom. But is it the WHAT that we should be enjoying? Is it not the WHO? The King in the manger and not our spruced-up surroundings?

At last, I drifted off to a much-needed nap.

When I woke up half an hour later, I saw Hannah walking to and fro in the garden. I waved at her and she looked at me funny. “I will tell her she looked like a ghost walking there”, I thought to myself. But when she opened the door of my room, she leaned on the wall and sobbed and sobbed. She had in her hand a towel she balled and wiped her tears with it which were falling copiously.

In-between sobs, she told me what happened. She slipped while holding the vaio; it fell to the floor and the screen was shattered beyond repair. She was so scared of her Dad learning about it. She had been waiting for me to wake up so she could tell me first. (She knows that I always serve as “cushion” to the impact of her Dad’s ire when she’s done something wrong). She explained that she was making personalized Christmas tags and designing decors to surprise me with and to try to comfort me with the loss of the hurricane glasses.

She was a picture of complete repentance. Mercy flooded my heart and I gathered her in my arms. I rocked her back and forth, whispering gently, “Shhh. You didn’t intend to do it. I will talk to your Dad about it, don’t you worry. When I’m done, I will call for you and you will hug him and say you’re sorry, okay?”

She felt so relieved and said, “Thank you, Mom.”

Mercy. This is what I have received from the Savior. I knew then how I am (we all are) indebted to the Lord Jesus Christ. My forgiveness, my salvation, my life, my reformation, my hope of eternity – I owe it all to Him. This is what He’s done. This is what I want to remember. This season of Christmas.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

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Journey with Jesus,