On Sacrifice {A Family Tale}

The daddy leaves for church on a Sunday morning, alone this time because the two kids, who sing in different choirs, Children’s and Youth, are both sick, but not after cooking food, chicken adobo for the kids (their Sunday staple) and sinigang (fish and fish roe in sour broth with vegetables) for the mommy. The teenage daughter comes down and settles in bed beside her mom (who has been ailing these past 14 years), feverish and with a headache. The almost-ten son is just recovering from chicken pox. By God’s grace, the pustules are just few and they are now flattening down and drying out. Except for those, he is well and roams around the house as usual.

This magenta rose still needs some polishing to make it more sleek, but art, though it brings so much joy and is freeing, it could also be a sacrifice. That is, for an ailing artist like me.

This magenta rose still needs some polishing to make it more sleek, but art, though it brings so much joy and is freeing, it could also be a sacrifice. That is, for an ailing artist like me.

The maid left a few days ago, and although she didn’t want to leave, she had no choice. Her teenage middle son stopped going to school because he wanted his mother to be home.

So, the family is alone at present because the employment agencies are vacant. They have nobody to send. Most maids are now found abroad. Greener pastures.

All Sunday, the little boy tended to both mother and sister (who are stationed in bed) while the father worshiped the Lord in church which is from 10 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon.

Maybe already tired, twice he brought to the bedroom the pot of dish itself to serve food to the sick. But the mommy is so very thankful for the food he served. It definitely brought sustenance to their weak bodies.

Although the kids are used to assisting their sick mom and have both learned how to respond and act on her signs when she is so unwell, they haven’t completely learned to not complain. The teenager may not voice out her complaints, but often, her face says it all. And the little boy? He complains incessantly when he is not his sweet self. For when he is sweet (for he is a very sweet boy, indeed), he’s an angel.

The mother thinks they complain because they believe that they should not be serving like that. Their classmates in the international school that they attend are probably not required to serve. For the mom has yet to see a home in the village they live in (and she knows for certain in the homes of her kids’ classmates) which doesn’t employ a maid or two.

The kids grew up having maids around, but the mommy believes that it should not hinder her desire to train them to help with chores. Whenever the family finds itself maidless, the kids know how to sweep and mop the floors, clean their rooms and bathrooms, wash dishes, cook, tend to the dogs, and answer to their mother’s calls. But this is nothing compared to her training growing up.

Many years ago in the province where life was generally hard and maids were unheard of, everyone in the family, except the baby in the cradle, helped. She doesn’t fail to tell these stories to the kids, how the wooden and untiled floors must be waxed, then scrubbed with a coconut husk to make them shine, would take almost half a day and all your strength. How water must be fetched from the well across the street, for washing, laundry, and bathing. How they all washed their clothes by hand including bleaching the cloth diapers of the baby under the powerful sunshine, because Pampers and Huggies were just a figment of the imagination.

But she doesn’t think that they completely absorb these stories. They are so farfetched from the life they have now. They don’t know the hard life in the province.

And so the mother, while waiting out for good breathing and strength with tightly closed eyes, wish so much in her heart to teach and model to her children the virtue of sacrifice. To let them know that life in the Lord Jesus Christ is entirely different from the life in the world, especialy their friends’ and classmates’ lives. That it’s okay to be different as long as the reason for it is because they are children of God and followers of the Lord Jesus and His teachings. That serving others, even sacrificing for them, is a part and a virtue of the Christian life.

She wishes to teach all these and she frets in her spirit for she knows that her strength is not enough for lengthy Bible Study and discussion. But the desire will serve as a goal for her to rise up and serve her family, especially her children, in the ways of the Lord.

How she longs to teach them, as she also has recently learned, that serving and sacrificing are things not to be despised or shunned but to be embraced. She wants them to understand, as she is just beginning to understand it herself, that the serving and sacrificing life is not hidden from the eyes of God, and that, it will be rewarded, if not in the here and now, in eternity.

She knows that her family longs to travel, to see the world, like all families dream and strive of doing. She knows that her family looks at the world, at other families in their neighborhood and in school, and so desires to be like them. And she used to feel that way, too. But now she understands that, to truly follow Christ is to denounce the pleasures of the world. That even though they enjoy its offerings from time to time, it is not their life. It is not their way of life. But that their life is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ who, though He owned heaven and earth and is the King of kings, chose to be born in a smelly stable.

She understands it now, like the breaking of dawn through the pink-purple sky, that the cause of all her woes is because she desired things other than what the Lord is offering. 

She knows sacrifice, but because of wealth, she and her family dream of pleasurable and beautiful things. She knows that silent service, where God maybe the only audience, makes life deeply meaningful and rewarding. 

She remembers the days how her two caregivers (also nannies to the kids), both cousins of her husband, took care of her, bathed and fed her when she was too weak. On two separate occasions when one of them was bathing her, she touched their heads and expressed her gratitude and declared that their acts of love will be rewarded by the Lord.

And that is what she wants to teach her children, that sacrifice is always an act of love and nothing but. That a service when done grudgingly loses its helping and healing power and it only leaves heaviness in the spirit of the recipient. When a service is done with heavy heart, hand, and words, it is futile in the end. 

It is always this:

And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:3)

And to always remember the Lord’s words:

And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ (Mat. 25:40)

Every act of love, every sacrifice, we do it to Him and for Him.

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Yearning

Though it hurts, yearning is good for my heart, that yearning for the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know that kind of deep yearning, one that is borne out of desperation? That yearning that I am sure the woman who bled for 12 years had, or the leper who begged the Lord, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean”, or the father of the child with a dumb and deaf spirit who cried out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!” Or Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue whose daughter lay at home dying.

This was just a quick sketch and dabble and though it's quite unfinished (the other flower needs more color), I enjoyed painting it just for the joy and freedom of painting.

This was just a quick sketch and dabble and though it’s quite unfinished (the other flower needs more color), I enjoyed painting it just for the joy and freedom of painting.

These all and many others had gone through indescribable desperation and sought the Lord Jesus’ help. I know there are still many out there that, like me, are going through the same. But that is the big difference between our stories and those stories in the Bible during the time of the Lord Jesus Christ: they had Him in the flesh, going about all the cities and villages, healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 

And that is where my yearning cuts deep: I want Him so much to be here, in the flesh, to see His eyes of compassion and feel His hands of mercy and healing. To be before Him, begging Him on my knees to deliver me from my sickness and suffering. Or even to crawl behind Him and be able to touch even the hem of His garment, then everything will be fine. Then healing would flow to my body and all would be well.

I long for Him, yes, so much that it hurts.

Sometimes I wonder, does He know our deepest longings? How does He feel about them? What does He want to do about them?

The Gospels tell us that, He was moved with compassion. And since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8), He is still moved with compassion today.

He is still moved with compassion today. Let this truth steep our whole being from the crown of our heads to the soles of our feet.

But we need proof, don’t we? We want to experience this compassion in action from a compassionate God. We want to bask in our belovedness. For we are His beloved and He is ours.

Years ago when I was very sick again and languished in bed, I experienced the same yearning for God, to know His heart, to see His eyes. What did they see? What was their expression?

One day I was reading through The Book of Daniel and that encounter between him and the angel Gabriel touched me deeply that I had to put down my Bible and pondered on it. Gabriel told Daniel that He was a man greatly beloved. Three times the angel assured Daniel this, that he was a man greatly beloved by God.

How I wished I were in Daniel’s stead!

I closed my Bible and thought long and hard: “Am I also a woman greatly beloved by God?” I was no prophet. I hadn’t the wisdom or the faith and calling of Daniel. I was a woman whose sin was darker than the darkest night. And yet a woman who had received great mercy and grace from the compassionate God and complete forgiveness of my sins. And had been washed by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that flowed profusely in Calvary.

Didn’t He give His life to give me mine?

He loved me and died for me even when I was yet a sinner. So, am I a woman greatly beloved by Him? Is there doubt about that?

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

But, I ask Felix my husband in a whisper, “Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why does God even allow it? Even to His children?” as I swipe away tears that sneak out at the corners of my eyes. He whispers back his reply, “I don’t know, My.”

And so we yearn. We long for His touch, for His eyes that look at us compassionately and being moved by what He sees. We long for heaven touching earth and healing everything that needs healing.

This deep longing, this yearning in the heart that is not totally quenched in the here and now – it is proof that we belong to Him eternally. That our hearts and souls carry with them a part of eternity. And that our longing hearts are proof that our love is not dead but is forever alive and beating for Him.

My heart beats for Him. And that is good.

The last time that I came through one of those horrible sufferings, I only felt love for my Savior – a quiet, steadfast, indestructible love – all glory to Him! I listened to praise and loved on Him, then I reached for my prayer journal and told Him how He is my all in all, my everything in every aspect of my life. How I live in Him and by Him and through Him. And for Him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18)

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“How Great Thou Art” {A Little Testimony}

Like any other testimony of God’s wonders and grace, whether a major one or of the everyday kind, this story began at the deepest end of human emotions: weariness, anger, resentment, lostness, helplessness. Of hope flying away; faith groping in the dark; heart bordering to rebellion. Against God. A body and heart that have been so hurt by the — unresponsive God. A soul that wept and shook and shed tears and poured out its bitter complaint.

IMG_7844

I am so sorry that I have to go through this again, but I promise that, like all other testimonies, it will be glorious in the end.

Last week, the flu bug found me and as if my present illness and suffering weren’t enough, the flu had to do its work also. It left my body feeling like it was tightly tied by a taut, thick rope from the head to the feet. The problems and discomforts that I used to suffer everyday intensified and felt like there was no relenting, especially on Tuesday. In the evening, exhausted and “sick and tired” of my situation, I attempted to listen to our church’s praise and worship on YouTube, but after just a few minutes, my breathing wasn’t improving and the music wasn’t helping, so I muted it.

I turned on my side and waited out for relief. When I was feeling strong enough to write on my prayer journal, I poised myself to do so. But already at this time, my heart was breaking. From hurt, disappointment, anger, and hope fading.

Below I share with you the words I wrote on my journal. I am sharing this with you because it’s part of the story. And because there is always this hope in my heart that, when I share my story and soul, someone, anyone, who might read it will be blessed as I pray God would intend to use it. And bring Him glory.

22nd August ’17

     Father in heaven, I always do my best to be good for You though I know that, oftentimes, I fail. Still, I strive to do so. I always do my best to pick myself up no matter how hard I am suffering.

     But I am weary, Father. I am weary of this suffering – relentless, cruel, punishing. My complaint rises up from within me like bile. My heart is in bitter complaint because of this suffering that seems endless.

     I’m only human. I am made of flesh and bones. I am weak. I suffer everyday and there is no end to it. I feel bitter. I feel discouraged. I feel… angry, somehow. Why is the punishment on my body never ends? I beg for Your mercy, but still, the suffering, the illness, clings to me like my own skin.

     I feel helpless.

     I am lost. I don’t know what to do, what to think, where to go.

     I feel lost.

     I am weak. I can’t fight this feeling of disheartenment.

     I don’t know what to say. I want to hurl things and smash them against the wall. Yes, there is anger in my heart. There is resentment. There is bitterness. Who wouldn’t be bitter? 14 years of sickness and suffering.

     I am in the dark. I can’t see light. My heart is gripped with sorrow. My faith is groping. I don’t know what to do.

     I don’t have the inspiration to do what I must do.

     I’m pitiful. I’m lost in my hope. [Here, I abruptly stopped and closed my journal as sobbing wracked my body].

I closed my journal and howled in my anguish. I thought about the Lord Jesus Christ, the words beloved and best friend so far away like shrouded in thick fog. But in my weeping, I uttered the words “Healer, Healer, Healer” and “Deliverer, Deliverer, Deliverer” over and over, not to beg, but to ask, “What do they really mean?” This was the question behind those words.

I prayed towards heaven as tears kept on rolling, “Father, please do not let me suffer so much that I would fall into doubt, unbelief, or rebellion!” I cried some more, curled up like a fetus in the womb.

When I was exhausted at last (and my complaints, too), I looked at my TV screen. The praise and worship video was still there, suspended, waiting. But my heart wasn’t yearning to praise and worship. It wasn’t into it, so I didn’t force it. I clicked it close and went to Home, intending to search for Jesus movie. I was thinking that maybe, when I see the Lord Jesus (even if only a movie), teaching, loving, caring, healing – my heart would have a turnaround.

I know Jesus. I know my Shepherd. But I’m not okay now. Such were the whisperings of my soul.

But when I reached YouTube Home, the video Hymn History “How Great Thou Art” caught my eye and I said, “I’ll watch this first.”

I watched it and when finally, the beloved hymn was played, I was unprepared as to what was to come.

By the second stanza, something began to happen.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

“I know, Father. Though I haven’t been through the woods and forest glades, or on top of the mountain or near the brook, my soul knows them,” my heart whispered, the course of tears on my cheeks still damp. “I know the sound of the birds singing sweetly in the trees. I know it so well.”

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

I first saw (or heard?) the lyrics even as I shifted my eyes on the cross, and there, He took me totally unexpectedly. He took me wholly, and my anguish, too. The weight of His Truth, my salvation story, and His love – the weight of glory – it can topple one onto one’s knees and assume the posture of worship. The worship of God with the whole spirit. The worship of God that relinquishes any traces of complaint.

And I was reduced to someone who needs saving once again. Someone who is a sinner and a recipient of God’s amazing grace. Someone who was a filthy rag but was washed by the blood of my Savior Jesus Christ – my best friend and beloved.

I flung my arms upwards and shouted with all the strength I had, “I love You, my dearest Lord Jesus! I love You, I love You, I love You!” as fresh tears once again smeared my face.

The weight of God’s glory upon one’s spirit is restoring.

It is not my striving to be perfect that draws me to the throne of grace. It is my great neediness.

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Be Strong and Courageous

One day last week after a long suffering bout where I had felt like I was dangling over a deep canyon and just the tiniest error on my part or a soft whiff of wind would send me plummeting into the deep and… end, many confusing thoughts and swirling emotions gripped me. It was a moment that I didn’t want to analyze things anymore, that I was tired thinking, analyzing, and trying to understand what I was unable to comprehend anyway. I was thinking that once I had enough strength and good breathing, I was going to write on my journal this: “Lord, I don’t know what to do anymore.” I was so exhausted not only physically but in fighting spiritually or even mentally, trying to outsmart my sickness and suffering. For a change I wanted to just be lost and not think or do anything.

My daisy meadow from last year.

My daisy meadow from last year.

For what could a mere human do in the face of so much hardship? I thought about the unfairness of life: the wicked enjoying a long, healthy, and prosperous life, and the people that are still so needed by their families are taken away (here, I was thinking of my friend who passed away recently, leaving her 4 children orphans, for her husband had gone before her ten years prior).

So, I was facing yet another major bout of discouragement and hopelessness.

But just as soon as these feelings of weakness and lostness engulfed me, these words flashed in my mind in red letters: Be strong and courageous.

And instantly, I was renewed to be strong and courageous again.

Then I understood (again), that there was no other way, really, in this faith that we have been given. So, I comforted and encouraged myself with these words as the last few moments of recovery (from the attack) came to an end: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (see Eph. 6:10).

I am not a stranger to this admonition. In fact, it is my battlecry in the 14 years of being sick and suffering. It has seen me through the dark valleys and stormy seas. In the face of great fear, uncertainties, suffering, discouragements, hopelessness, and wanting to give up, “Be strong and courageous” has always gained the upper hand.

Yes, to remain standing still after each storm. For the Lord Jesus Christ is able to make us stand.

…Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (Rom. 14:4)

It is God’s power and grace that make us stand.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:11-13)

Having done all, to stand. I often think and wonder why, after doing all the things that I know are pleasing to God – obeying His commands, living His Word, and not neglecting to worship and commune with Him first and foremost – still, there are prayers, very important ones, that are left unanswered. Still, illness stays and suffering continues. After each and every suffering bout, I ask in the depths of my soul, like an anguished animal desperate for deliverance, “What else needs to be done?”

And when we only hear hollow echoes of our questions and not a clear answer, we either slump down in utter dejection and discouragement or become bitter, resentful, and more doubtful.

But the Apostle Paul exhorts that having done all, to still stand. Stand and not cave in. Stand and not doubt. Stand and forge on. Stand and be strong and courageous. Stand and be faithful to the end.

I know firsthand how this is not easily done, especially in the face of so much hardships and challenges. But it is what needs to be done. Our God commands it.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:9)

I am no Joshua, but I can make the other women of the Bible who had shown strength and courage in the face of life’s trials and challenges as my role models.

Esther

There is Esther who bravely faced her fate twice. First, as a candidate for queen among other young women. What if she had other plans for herself? All that had to be forgotten for she was brought to the palace to be prepared for one night with the king. What if she wasn’t chosen? She will be kept in the harem as the king’s concubine for life. A very daunting prospect.

But she did her best and became a shining star in the palace and earned the trust and respect of Hegai, custodian of the women, and the other girls. She wasn’t afraid even ensconced within the walls of the palace that could serve her prison for life.

Then there was the moment in her life as queen when she needed to approach the king and present her petition, putting her life on the line. For any one who had not been summoned by the king and presented themselves risked death.

Ruth

Who doesn’t love Ruth? A widow and a stranger to Israel being a Moabitess, she could have stayed behind with her family and the people she knew. But she cleaved to Naomi, her mother-in-law, and set her face to a pilgrimage to the land she had never been before, to a people and faith foreign to her, and to a God she had not known.

And yet, she had the heart and courage to face all that without being afraid. And then followed the back-breaking labor of gleaning barley from sunup to sundown.

And having done all, to stand.

Rahab

Who would forget Rahab? She was a brave and gutsy woman for sure. She didn’t only shine hiding the spies and bravely facing the king’s stewards who came knocking at her door demanding her to turn in the spies. But to turn her back from her old occupation and start a whole new life in the embrace of Israel and her God. From a prostitute to an Israel adoptee (even capturing Salmon’s heart), she bravely yielded herself to the challenges that she faced. It wouldn’t have been easy to live normally and blissfully and to be with only one man with the demons of her past visiting her many a sleepless night. The remembrance of her past life.

But having done all, to stand.

And then there is Mary the mother of the Lord Jesus. But we end here.

If I say, “My foot slips,”
Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. (Ps. 94:18)

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Gratitude and Wonder

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

gratitude and wonder

Freesia – a painting from early last year.

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

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

Wonder

The Snow Globe

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

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

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

The Vending Machine

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

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

The Piano Duet

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

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

Gratitude

The Buyers

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

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

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

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

The Paintings

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

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

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A Life of Gratefulness

The day I felt so ill that I forced myself to vomit to be able to breathe and relieve me of dizziness, gratefulness triumphed once again. The episode was scary just like the others, but this one made me panic more. And even though by dinnertime, the worst had passed, still, I was so weak to join the family for dinner at our new-to-us dining table (which has become our favorite spot for gathering and celebrating everyday life). When dinner was over, I stirred in bed, got up and requested Felix to buy ice cream and gathered the family again for dessert.

gratefulness

Every opportunity I get, I want to make the moments special and meaningful. While we licked three flavors of ice cream in sugar cones, I told the family we were going to take turns in sharing what we were thankful to the Lord for that day. We made three rounds, three things each of what we wanted to thank the Lord Jesus for, before I declared we were done. In all of my three things, I felt His powerful presence. He was so near I could feel Him touching me I had goosebumps.

I have long learned that gratefulness does that: it draws us so very near to God and draws Him near to us. To thank the Lord from the bottom of our heart is to honor Him. And when he is honored in our lives, when He is exalted, He draws near, makes His presence felt, and He lingers. We feel we are so very loved and cherished.

There are times that I experience surges of love and gratitude towards Him that I want to squeeze Him really tight in a hug, like a child hugging her daddy in pure delight. One good thing that sickness and suffering has brought to my life is that the starting point of my gratitude has gone very low. Meaning, the trigger for happiness and gratitude is shallow. I don’t take things for granted. I can easily see the difference between suffering and relief (deliverance). And in that relief, in the healing moments, in the respites, my heart swells in gratitude. I am easily gladdened even by the smallest things that I am able to do. I take joy in them. Most people go places, celebrate with friends, pursue hobbies, do meaningful activities, etc. I can’t do most of those, I can’t go out, but with the little things that I can do – I am ever so grateful to the Lord.

The starting point of my gratefulness is low and the heights it reaches are extraordinarily high. Even that I consider a wonderful blessing. Only by His grace.

I have learned to fight discouragements, disappointments, and even hopelessness, by choosing to hold gratitude near my heart and be active and intentional in my thanksgiving.

When we are truly grateful to the Lord, without resentments and grudges and unending complaints – life certainly becomes brighter and lighter. Joy easily finds its way to our hearts and we are lifted up.

But even as I say these things, the harshness of life could still squeeze itself into one’s peace. It still wants its presence known and felt. Indeed, sometimes life could be like an arid, hostile wilderness. Sometimes the journey could feel so arduous, long, and almost unbearable. Especially in sickness and suffering with sorrow. It cannot be that sorrow is absent.

I remember the months when suffering made me turn to Job to find solace and strength. When in intense, constant suffering, God seemed to be nowhere, like He was covered in a thick fog. It felt like you were groping in the dark, confused, afraid, unsure. Job’s laments resonated with me:

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there;
and backward, but I cannot perceive him:
on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him:
he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: (Job 23:8-9)

Life isn’t fair sometimes and it feels like it’s all an uphill climb. These lyrics of Sandi Patty’s song, sounding like it was taken from Job’s words themselves, exactly express that. This song captured my soul for a time and I clung to it.

I feel You to the left and right

So close and yet just out of sight

I search where promises are kept.

I know You’re real

And somehow still

You’re watching over me

And You will always be until heaven

Brings me home to You

I’ll remember You will always be here

In my heart.

I ache inside but journey on

What is this desperate dream I chase

The distance cruel but yearning grows…

Yes, the journey seems like it sometimes – cruel and winding. But we’ve been placed here. For a reason. Job added,

But he knoweth the way that I take:
when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

And ended with —

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. (Job 13:15)

I had echoed Job’s words and by doing so, I had been strengthened and my faith fortified.

We are here, we are walking this journey. It is hard most of the time, but the Lord Jesus Christ promised to be with us always, even to the end. And He gives us glimpses of His glory when we have learned how to look.

For days Tim was busy preparing for a project (he always has these DIYs). I heard snippets of the things he was looking for and collecting while he breezed in and out of my room. I wasn’t really paying attention (because that’s what adults usually do, I guess). But on the day that he had set up his project, a bird-trapping contraption, I accidentally opened the CCTV monitor. A voice whispered to me to look and consider.

So, I watched Tim as he checked out if birds had been eating his bait and I actually smiled. The rope went all the way from our garage to beyond the garden. “So I could not be seen while I watch them,” he said. I gathered up all the blessings this scene brought:

I have a healthy, active son.

He plays exuberantly as all other children of his age do.

He believes in wonders.

He is inventive.

He is a joy to me.

That day, I sensed the Lord Jesus’ delight and once again, I was awash with gratitude and joy.

We need not travel beyond the seas to see the wonders of God. He brings beauty and wonder right where we are. We only have to lower down the standard of what brings us joy and triggers our gratitude.

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Alive in the Life of Christ

Suddenly, I find myself in the hustle and bustle of business. Business?! That doesn’t apply to me, has not been the past 14 years, unless I count administrating our company’s website being part of the business. But yes, suddenly, I am busy everyday – thinking, planning, devising, scheduling, and supervising. Even though what I am only supervising is the photoshoot of our items for our online garage sale and the careful packaging of the orders :) . Compared to what I used to do in the company that I singlehandedly put up in ’98, what I do in this online business is just an infinitesimal fraction of it. And I can’t even call it business because in business, you’re supposed to make profits. In our online garage sale via IG, we sell stuff from our cabinets and storage at prices that are way below the original. But at least, we are de-stuffing and turning unused items into cash which I can then use to buy pretty things also from other IG sellers. Welcome to the barter system in the 21st century! :)

The Vine

When I saw myself in the thick of packing and dispatching boxes for shipping, I felt overwhelmed. I said to myself, “Am I really doing this?” And suddenly, a feeling of trepidation gripped my heart. I’m no longer used to the normal speed of life. I am one who is unable to stand up and walk, let alone go out. And although I am not bed-bound, still, I frequent my bed and our bedroom is the hub of most activities, especially concerning our online thrift store.

My paintings have also found their niche – finally! – as to where I could display and sell them successfully: through our IG online store. My framed original paintings from earlier works are sold out – praise the Lord! And buyers have also noticed the beauty of gallery wrap canvas prints. Orders are trickling in. A few have also requested for a commissioned work. And so, yes, we’re in business.

But because of the last 14 years of being ill, weak, and suffering, living life normally as I knew it has become far from my reality. And so, although I am ever so grateful to God for blessing me with strength and things to mind (so as to make my life more meaningful and fulfilling), I am also being cautious and careful not to stress myself too much. And most of all, to not let my time with the Lord Jesus diminish.

For I am ever mindful that I am tethered to Him and cannot afford to be far from Him, no, not even a minute. And so, I remember, even in the midst of busyness, to whisper a prayer every now and then. An appreciation, an appeal, some words of praise. For I live by His mercies.

Lord Jesus, Your life flows to me. I have life in Your life. I have strength in Your strength. I have power in Your power. You live forever, I will, too.

I cannot describe enough my dependence on my Savior and Healer. My Sustainer. Sustainer of my breath, my life, my peace, my joy, and all the other things that I live by and make my life beautiful.

Maybe when I am fully healed and recovered, I would waltz through whatever work my Lord assigns me and fly to wherever He sends me. But for now, I cannot completely shake off the apprehension I feel whenever I do things that are not within the circle of “God things”. I am always mindful of offending God and falling from His favor and mercy, the very things I live of each day.

And then there is also the remembrance of the horrors of sufferings past. They are still very fresh in my memory and in every fiber and every cell of my body, for they still touch me sometimes. And although the Lord promised that —

…they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint. ((Is. 40:31)

I am still an eagle roosting and waiting. And in the waiting, I want that I do exactly His will. That is my wish, but it’s not always what I do. Oftentimes, we are not even sure what His will is. This is my guide:

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Rom. 12:2)

The key is to not be conformed to this world and in the not conforming, our minds will be renewed, and in the renewing, we will be transformed. We can then know and prove the good, acceptable, perfect will of God. This is a loaded commandment. If we are serious in knowing and pursuing the will of God in our lives, we need only to study this verse and subject ourselves to it. But it’s not always easy, especially when we want something that we believe in our heart of hearts that it is not “the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

Come to think of it, if we make that as our standard, there will be so many things we can cut from our lives. Superfluous things.

There is a great need then to come to the Lord often, as in everyday or whenever we need His guidance, and pray for His leading, for His will. For, sometimes, our judgments are clouded by our own (often selfish) desires. To “acknowledge Him in all our ways and He will direct our paths” (Prov. 3:6).

With regard to our online “business”, I wasn’t really all-out for it <whisper> for I was afraid I might be offending God by thinking too much about it or deriving joy from it. Okay, maybe what I am scared of is to make it into a god which can steal the time and affection that should rather be for Him. I am fearful like that because, as I have said, I live by God’s mercies every single day. I was thinking that after we have sold all our unwanted stuff, we will then close it up. But we give our tithes and love offerings diligently from our sales and don’t skimp on it. I know that is God’s perfect will. That eases off the fear.

As we move forward then, we acknowledge the Lord every step of the way so we won’t stray.

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All That We Ever Need

I feel that there is a need to focus fully on the Lord Jesus and exult Him in every circumstance, especially now that there is a potential for me to hurt all over, emotionally and bodily. I guess grief is capable of doing that. But I can’t afford to allow it. I’m already ailing and weak as it is, so, like a little child, I trail my Shepherd close behind, holding on to His coat and will not let go. Imagine a child at night who is afraid of the dark and clings to her mama’s skirt? That’s me now.

This was a painting from last year, illustration of the first part of Psalm 23.

This was a painting from last year, illustration of the first part of Psalm 23.

But I don’t want to just feel afraid and weak, I want to lift up the Lord Jesus in my life. I’m believing there is power that emanates from doing that. And so in this post, I will endeavor to do just that.

Sometimes, unawares, we choose between the Lord Jesus and the things of this world (our work, hobbies, chores, leisures, passions, and even obsessions). We may do it in a day or a string of days. We are unaware in that, we don’t really consciously choose to not pursue the things of God, but we somehow know deep inside that we have neglected the Lord and our time with Him. Sometimes, it could be that we spend more time with other things than with Him. It’s being back to Mary and Martha all over again. Whose heart do we carry in our bosom?

There really is a struggle. We are pulled on two opposite directions at once: God or things of this world. We cannot just pray for a more intimate relationship with the Savior then go ahead and pursue other things. We have to intentionally draw near to Him, with everything in us, not a body without the mind and heart.

There are two ways that I approach God, both not on my own volition alone, but I believe, always by the Holy Spirit of God. For the Lord says —

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts. (Zech. 4:6)

One is when I am driven by a great need (and admittedly, in great panic also). I fling my arms toward heaven without a care and present my supplications to God with much beseeching and tears. These are prayers that I repeat over and over until the peace of God descends and settles in my heart. (I know I’m guilty of redundancy of synonyms, but I still want to share the meaning of “supplication” below. Sometimes, we know the meaning of a word but not how meaningful it is).

supplication: the action of asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly.

In the first approach, I imagine myself like a typhoon coming to God, storming heaven with my panicked, urgent prayers. I thank God that by His Spirit, He is always the first One I run to. Even when the crisis is a hurting heart, when a good friend would have been a perfect person to turn to and confide in, I always choose to run to my Lord Jesus and talk with Him. Who could be a better friend than He is? He is my bestest friend.

The other approach is like gentle waves lapping against a placid shore. I come to the Lord Jesus with a calm heart overflowing with gratitude and love. I turn to my side and ready myself to commune with my Everlasting Love. Sometimes, I am a little child in His lap; at other times, His Bride, His Beloved. I love these times with my Lord. I reach out for my gratitude journal, then my prayer journal. During these precious times, I like to write down my prayers. It feels like there is a special intimacy when I do, like I am keeping our conversations within the pages and when I close my journal, my words of praise and petition are sealed.

It is only now that the magnitude and fullness of God’s providence [divine guidance and care] is slowly sinking in. God wants to be our all in all, that’s why He has assumed many roles from the foundation of the world. Creator, Life Giver, Provider, Healer, Savior, Redeemer, Deliverer, Everlasting Father, Counsellor, Comforter, Prince of Peace, Good Shepherd, Immanuel [He is always with us], King of kings [sovereign]. He wants to be our Husband, Bridegroom, Friend. Even His name He has not withheld, for His name is a strong tower. He is all wisdom. He has it all planned out. He has it all covered from A to Z. He is Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. He sees throughout eternity!

And yet we fear. We panic. We go astray. We turn to other gods, vain things. Broken cisterns. And turn away from the Fountain of Living Waters. We experience a whole plethora of unprofitable emotions and submit ourselves to weak and beggarly elements.

God wants to be God to us, but most often, we don’t let Him. We doubt, we become faithless. We doubt His love, His trustworthiness, His goodness. But He is ALL that! He is Love. He is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. AND He wants to be all THAT to us.

So, let Him love us, provide for us, heal us, give us peace, make us strong, make us righteous. Let Him delight in us by our love and obedience. Let Him be honored by our faith and trust and hope. Let Him perform miracles by our not doubting. Let Him be God to us and ALL the blessings and goodness that come with that name. Let Him be big [heaven is His throne and the earth His footstool – that.is.big!], almighty, all-powerful.

In Him we are complete. Whole.

Psalm 23 says it all.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

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God’s Comfort and Strength

A poem for the sorrowing soul.

 

God’s Comfort and Strength

IMG_7769

Joy is great

But sorrow pushes deeper

Into God’s bosom

A gateway to grace.

 

Sorrow is a shadow

That walks with one

And urges on toward

The Lord’s waiting arms.

 

Sorrow works repentance

Humbling down and tears

And plunging oneself

At Jesus’ feet.

 

My deepest need

For comfort and strength

Stokes the fire within

Makes love burn afresh.

 

Sorrow colors

My praise and worship

Drives me to touch

All heaven’s gates.

 

I’m like a bird

That hovers over

Sorrow’s sea

Not wanting to land

For I am weak, you see.

 

But God whispers

“My strength

Is made perfect

In your weakness

So, lean closer

And trust deeper

I am your rest.”

 

Is it even possible

To just fly away

Under the shadow

Of God’s wings

Where I hide myself

And pain can never reach?

 

I cry out

For the Savior’s light

For in Him darkness

Cannot ever abide.

 

And so He makes me

Afloat in His mercy

And in the power

Of His great love.

 

God’s love never fails

Never wanes, never leaves

Never dries up

Like a river it flows

Untiring, unending

Its healing power

Alive, ever moving

Both now and forever.

 
(On the occasion of my BFF’s passing).
 
 

 

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Of Tables, Teacups, and the Workings of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then illness came.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wondrous workings of God – I am in awe!

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