He Fills Us to Overflowing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Treasure Chest

I have a treasure chest where I stash all my wealth in this world. I haven’t realized how much it has grown, but the last time I looked, my treasures have accumulated and lay in a heap, untouched, just waiting for me to come and do an inventory again. Taking stock of my wealth is a wonderful task. Wonderful, in the truest sense of the word: it elicits in me feelings of awe and wonder. And the fruit of it is praise and thanksgiving to God from the core of my being, like a spring of water that must find its way to the surface.

gems-2

I had heard it said that one of my unmarried granduncles, when he was still living, would sit up in the middle of the night, take out his box of money and count his worldly wealth. Single to the day of his death, he had lived simply and stingily and kept all his money, the bills neatly folded and bound, in a box where no one could touch it. It was said that after he died, the box was discovered under his bed – no instructions as to whom he intended to bequeath it.

Maybe he wanted to hold onto it and feel the comfort and security of possessing so much even to his death. Maybe it was his god. For in the absence of God in one’s life, one is bound to worship someone or something.

I would have done that, too, had God not taken me and showed me how to really live.

If my granduncle sat up in the middle of the night to take stock of his money, I too, sometimes open my chest and take out my treasures. One by one, I place them under the light where I can gaze at them and marvel once again at their beauty and how they have enriched my life.

The sparkling, colorful sapphires of answered prayers scattered all over the place. The deepest red rubies of the Lord Jesus Christ’s unfailing love, poured out in Calvary, washing away my sin. The opalescent stones of His enduring mercy and compassion that come in shifting colors in each ushering in of dawn – ultramarine blue, indigo, lilac, purple, burnt sienna, quinacridone gold, rose madder, carmine, vermillion – like the colors of the majestic sky when darkness gives in to light. They are new every morning! 

I pick up the strings of pearls that seem to have no end, their pearlescence shines the more when the light kisses it. They are His words that will never pass away, spoken to me through His prophets and apostles of old and His whispers of reminders and instructions through His Holy Spirit. I lay them down and see the golds, shining brightly like lamps in the dark, tests and trials in the fiery furnace of God which have turned into pure gold. It’s only through that (heaving one huge sigh) that the ore can be turned into gold. When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. Yes, these words from the lips of Job I have echoed through the years of difficult trials of faith.

Covering the bottom of the chest, I touch the cold, many-faceted stones. And when the light catches them, they wink at me – glittering, dancing diamonds of God’s faithfulness. They cover me with their blinding brilliance.

I am very rich.

My sapphires come in varying colors: blue, pink, viridian, crimson, magenta, amber, and orange. They are the answered prayers that I hold close to my bosom: each one a beautiful story of a different hue; each one a powerful testimony of God’s goodness and faithfulness. I know each one of them. It would be a sin to forget any one of them, and yet, can we really account for all of them?

There was my prayer for a close relationship with my daughter Hannah. She was a little girl when I got ill, only two. I ceased to play with her or walk with her or bring her to school. I was busy getting healed or fighting fear and death. Our home wasn’t normal. There were no family dinners, playdates, trips to the mall… My husband threw himself to the management of the company I left in a huff, before it was too late to save it. My illness kept me bound in bed or a chair. And Hannah was left in the care of a nanny.

She began to be estranged from me. Each day that passed, I saw that she was growing to dislike me. When I called her, she didn’t want to come near. When I wanted to talk to her, she wouldn’t open her mouth. When I asked her to play with her toys at my feet, she hated it.

So, I prayed. I prayed and begged the Lord to not let me lose my daughter, too, because of my illness. Night and day I prayed that my daughter and I would become so close as a mother and daughter should be.

One day when she was in Kinder 2, barely three months before the school year ended, she decided to stop going to school. No amount of convincing or trick or pleading worked. One morning, both her Dad and I brought her to school hoping that she would be enticed to stay in school again. But she clutched at the steering wheel so tight she could have pulled it out of its attachment had we not finally relented. We faced the scary reality of our child not wanting to be in school, for how long, we had no idea. And we were devastated.

I was truly depressed because I know of a girl when I was in grade school in the province who suddenly stopped going to school at grade 4 and never left their house from then on to this day.

Later on, we learned from the mother of Hannah’s friend in school that Hannah had been confiding to her daughter how it made her so sad leaving me at home sick. I was the more devastated that it was my illness that affected her decision to stay at home. I wanted her to have a normal, happy childhood, despite my illness.

I didn’t want her to be left behind so I assumed the role of a homeschooling Mama. Thankfully, I was strong enough in those days to be able to do so. So everyday I taught her – math, reading, writing, arts. We ate together during lunch break and in the afternoons, we napped side by side.

When she went to the park with her nanny, she always came back with a flower for me. She was always by my side, asking me how I was when I was in bed.

One night during my private worship, the Lord spoke in my heart.

“I have answered your prayer. I have made you and your daughter very close. I want you to be happy. I love you.”

I sobbed in gratitude and awe.

So, all the time that I thought my daughter’s future had been ruined because of my illness, it was actually the Lord’s design so that I would feel the love that binds a mother and a daughter even in the midst of illness. Friends in church noticed our closeness and mentioned it. My husband told them it was an answered prayer.

The next school year, Hannah went back to school. And happily.

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Journey with Jesus,

Living Blessed

Tim comes to kiss me goodnight and again, I am reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Okay, so you often read me writing those two attributes of our heavenly Father these days, but I honestly can’t help myself. That’s exactly what He is to me: good and faithful. So, following this road of counting my blessings and blessing God for them, like a bee follows the flowers’ fragrance, I am continuing on with my words of thanksgiving and praise.

living blessed

There have been the usual challenges in my life lately, like marriage and motherhood, not counting the fact that I am still unable to walk and travel. But as I was saying, when Tim came to kiss me goodnight at the end of a rather stressful day, I clung to him and squeezed him so tight as the memory of God’s wonderful blessing played out in my mind. There are days that I want to focus on my difficulties and forget to be intentionally and fervently thankful, but the Holy Spirit is quick to point me to the truth: that the Lord Jesus has done mighty works on my behalf. I only need to remember again and again.

In 2005, while I was sick in bed, twice I dreamed of a beautiful baby boy sleeping beside me. And in those two times, I woke up with a deep longing in my heart. I wanted so much for the dream to come true. I wanted to hold that baby in my arms not only in my dreams. But how could that happen, seeing that I was very sick and weak?

One day, an older sister in Christ came to visit. I told her about my dreams. She said that God was showing me that He was going to bless me with a son. That brought joy to my heart although I never really gave it much thought. I was more focused on my illness and suffering and my hope for recovery.

One whole year passed wherein I received partial healing and was able to go to our church’s crusades with my family. Then in 2007, I conceived. The dream had turned into reality. Nothing is impossible with God. He is a good God, a rewarder of our unwavering faith and obedience and fulfiller of our most fervent dreams.

That night that the memory came rushing back, I hugged Tim tightly. He’s one of the proofs of God’s love and faithfulness to me. I was embracing God’s gift, the deep desires of my heart filled to overflowing.

It’s not a secret to you, my dear readers, that I had struggled with comparison and envy these many years. I had written about it a few times here and also in my book Quiet Strength: And Learning From the Women of the Bible Who Had It. This is mainly because of my illness and suffering and being unable to work, travel, and do the things my heart desires to do. They have not completely gone but it’s far less intense and frequent now. They don’t affect me as much. Yes, I’m much stronger and wiser now. God, through my incessant prayers and supplications with much pleading, is slowly walking me away from these spiritually unprofitable emotions and practices. He is slowly opening my eyes to live blessed rather than live less: less than, loved less, known less, blessed less.

This is the song of my heart now:

For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness. (Ps. 107:9)

And so I want to live blessed everyday even through life’s vicissitudes.

How do we live blessed? More specifically, how does one who has frail health live blessed day after day after day?

Living blessed means that you count everything in your life – good or bad, trial or triumph – as stepping stones for growth and fruition, and in the end, as reasons for joy and thanksgiving. It is believing and trusting that God is in control and He knows what’s best for us even if we don’t understand and see the meaning of our painful trials, and in the process, embrace the lessons wherewith we can grow thereby.

It is seeing beyond our circumstances, toward the things that are not temporal but eternal. It is living in the knowledge that Jesus loves us fiercely, unconditionally, and unfailingly, and that nothing can separate us from His love. Living in the knowledge that He loves us so much He died for us to give us eternal life.

Living blessed, therefore, is living loved, forgiven, saved, joyful, thankful, courageous, fruitful, generous, victorious, and as heir of eternal life!

Living blessed means we bless others, too. Yes, even if they may have wronged or hurt us. It is a proof that Jesus’ love resides in us to the magnitude that it naturally flows outward toward others. Especially those who are so in need of Jesus and His salvation. Yes, you are so blessed that anger or unforgiveness  or ill will doesn’t find a place in your heart!

Living blessed is counting less the material things we possess (although we sincerely thank God for them, too) and more of the works of God that we do, laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven.

Not very recently, I focused my attention to the silent conviction that has been going on in my mind. I wondered why I wasn’t so much affected by the brokenness of the world at large. I often just forget about the great sufferings and needs of peoples around the world when I read about their plight. Maybe the main reason was that, I couldn’t do anything about it anyway. But it is never good for a Christian to feel helpless and indifferent. It is un-Christlike.

There were spurts of intense compassion and feverish praying for others, even for people I didn’t know, in years past, like when I prayed for those countrymen who were fleeing the conflict in Palestine, when I prayed for the people that might be affected by the fire near our place, and a few other instances. But the passion had not been sustained until I didn’t do it anymore.

I wondered when I would have the heart and genuine love for others’ salvation, those people that are outside of my circle, people I haven’t seen or met but exist anyway. Like the prostitute that prowls the streets at night, the children who dine with Rugby instead of a decent food. Every man, woman, and child, who sleeps in gutters, under the bridge, in dark alleys, in the parks, and who is in danger of every evil imaginable. Unprotected. For the one who languishes in bed with no hope of healing; the wife or mother who nurses a broken heart and home; the husband or father who can’t leave the casino or another woman’s arms.

For the destitute, the broken, and the lost.

The first stirrings began when the lyrics of Christy Nockels’ Sing Along hit home. At night when I say my prayers, safe in the comfort of our home, I think about those who are far less fortunate, the people I mentioned above, and the Lord put into my heart to pray for them, with true compassion flowing from my heart. I pray that God would cover them with His protection and not let them be destroyed as the world sleeps, that He would reach out His mighty arm towards them and save and heal them, too.

Great God
Wrap Your arms around this world tonight…*

That’s what being blessed and living blessed do.

(Sing Along by Christy Nockels; photo from Instagram).

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Journey with Jesus,

Home

Home is all I know of now. When you come visiting, I’m always home. You know when you’re homebound and unable to travel, there is always home. Being strapped home is not so bad. I’m grateful for home. I thank the Lord everyday for our beautiful home. Beautiful, not only because of the things found inside and the patch of green grass, plants, and trees that comprises our small garden outside. Beautiful because the Lord shines His light upon it. He sits upon the throne of our love, adoration, and praises. I can feel His constant presence within the walls of our home and out there in our patio.

Hubby's photo of Taal Lake as viewed from Canyon Woods.

Hubby’s photo of Taal Lake as viewed from Canyon Woods.

But home had not always been lovely for me and my young family, the kind which caresses your heart and soul in peace so that you want to breathe out a whisper toward heaven, “Thank You, God!”

We were still in the early days of building our home together, Hannah was a few weeks old baby, when my husband and I had an ugly fight which turned out into him clearing off his closet and leaving, and I, baffled and totally heartbroken. When you love perfect in everything, a wrecked marriage and home could be your ruin, too.

And so, our beautiful house became just that for me: a place where I went to at the end of a busy work day. No love, no family, no peace. Happiness was superficial and joy was foreign.

When the Lord finally restored us, His forgiveness, salvation and unconditional love pouring out upon our wrecked lives, I was too sick to keep house. I watched our mended family while I went in and out of near-drowning in fear and illness, and that didn’t comfort me. For years after our salvation and restoration, I lived in fear, uncertainty, and joylessness, the constant companions of sickness and suffering.

For the past 13 years where I experienced intermittent episodes of partial healing and recovery and of becoming sicker and walking under the shadow of death, home had become fragmented for me, offering little parts of it where I could hide and hope to find relief. There was Hannah’s room, then a vacant room adjacent to it (which was to become Tim’s room), the garage, the dining area.

In December 2004, I didn’t want to stay home. I thought that if I did, I would drown in fear and sickness and die. And so we stayed in our church’s fasting house in Pampanga. I wanted us to rent an apartment near it and live there indefinitely. But on New Year’s Day, God spoke to me: “Go home, my child. Wherever you go, I am there with you.” Since that day until 2006, I was home.

In 2006, home for me were the road and the places of crusades we went to all over Luzon. Certainly, an episode of partial healing and recovery.

The years that followed saw me giving birth to Tim and then sicker and weaker again that traveling, however near, posed a threat to my life. There were weeks and months that I made my home in our Astrovan parked in our garage. I lay in the van’s bed all day, protected from the curious eyes of neighbors and passersby by a small square of batik cloth and an umbrella anchored between the van’s rear door and the garage gate when it rained.

Then there was the time my husband moved the bed from the guest room into the dining room near the lanai door. Marichris’, our housekeeper and also my caregiver, silent movements in the kitchen were a comfort. And so I lay there all day for weeks and months until our own bedroom was a welcome refuge for my very sick self once again.

For years I coveted the lives and homes of our neighbors where there was no sickness but only happiness and normal living.

But with my steadfast faith and persevering prayers (and those in our Church led by our beloved pastor) and growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through His Word, came healing (though partial), strength, fresh hope, and inspiration once again. And this time, it is sturdier than all that came before. Because of the enduring mercies of God. Because He hears and honors the prayer of the faithful.

Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. (James 5:11)

I don’t know how it happened, but it looks like the Lord has lifted off the shroud of fear and gloom of my heart and home, and in its place, He set His good and perfect gifts: His shimmering light and daily doses of His unfailing love, grace, strength, beauty, inspiration, and joy.

There is true beauty and peace in our faithful and intentional abiding in Him and His Word. His presence in our lives and our deep awareness of it are power. 

Our home. Those mounted watercolor poppies are my work – praise God. They bring brightness to our living room.

Inspiration that oozes from my worshiping heart drives me to make our home beautiful, not only with the furniture (the arranging and re-arranging of them), the decor, the knickknacks, the fresh flowers in vases, the books in the shelves, the scents of pearly lavender bath or freshly-cut grass, but also with the conversations, laughters, playtimes, acts of love and kindness and sacrifices, celebrations, reconciliations, and all others that make a house a home.

The Lord has heaped His blessings upon me that my prayers and thanksgivings are never empty and futile and my days are full of color and meaning. Though in other people’s eyes, the blessings may look like trickles (they look that way to me sometimes, with me still not fully well, strong, and walking), they are actually honey drops from heaven, sweet to the soul and health to the bones.

Yes, by God’s wonderful grace, I am making our home beautiful in every sense of the word, but home for me, that true, peace- and love-filled home, is really in the arms of my Savior. Not literally, but like in the cleft of the Rock, where when my heart is overwhelmed, He leads me to the rock that is higher than I (Ps. 61:2), safe and comforted under the shadow of His wings and in His hand where no one can pluck me out (see John 10:28).

If I had known then that being still in my own bed (where it’s far more comfortable) and trusting God to come through for me wherever I was in our house, I wouldn’t have acted in panic in previous years. But maybe, my fears were more powerful than my faith then. Or maybe, it is now God’s perfect time to deliver me out of those paralyzing fears and let me bask in His peace and joy.

Last year when I fought fiercely for my life once again, I didn’t have the desire (nor the strength for that matter) to flee my room. In the deep recesses of my mind and soul, I held on to God’s powerful promises and made them my home. My sanctuary. And He met me there. I think of David’s words:

Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. (Ps. 4:4)

Home is wherever we are held tightly by our loving, faithful God.

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Journey with Jesus,

Immeasurable

The day Felix and the kids went to Timberland for a day of swimming and breathing in nature, I finished my watercolor painting of poppies and then baked chicken BBQ buns. I didn’t want to think about how it could have been so lovely going with them and enjoying together the things the place had to offer. Timberland Sport and Nature Club is situated on top of the mountains of San Mateo, Rizal. The place overlooks the whole metropolis down below and neighboring mountains. The olympic-sized, infinity pool makes you feel like you’re on the edge of the earth :) . There’s an al fresco cafe and I wanted to imagine my husband and I enjoying some refreshments while the kids swam, the cool mountain breeze and resplendent view invigorating us.

immeasurable

But it was very quiet at home and in the quiet, I blocked all the “if only” thoughts and focused on the activities God gave me to accomplish on that day. He laced it with fresh inspiration yet again, balancing the melancholy with the joy of creating something: I would be baking buns and half of them I would send to our beloved pastor who has been weak and recuperating these past months. I also received inspiration to wrap birthday gifts for a hardworking couple in church who lead the choir. We have been blessed to be able to give, and giving gifts, however simple, has inspired me anew.

I recently wrote that when we learn to dwell in the everyday gifts of God and immerse ourselves in gratefulness and intentional thankfulness, our unsatisfied desires that threaten to undo us would turn to deep satiety in Him we never knew was possible. And indeed, the Lord is faithfully doing exactly that.

I also wrote sometime ago about my life flowing in trickles. I remember that again when Felix was assisting me bathe in my new clawed feet bathtub. He has to carry me from my wheelchair to the bathtub and back again after soaking in warm, scented waters for at least 30 minutes. It’s not easy for both of us (I’m quite heavy and though he exercises everyday, he still needs to exert a lot of muscle), but we are both grateful. On one of those bathroom episodes, while I basked in the aftermath of a warm, lavender bath, I commented, “Oh, thank You, dearest Lord Jesus! I’m so happy. So Dy, a little bath here, a little happiness there. I paint a little, bake a little, decorate the house a little… My life flowing in trickles and I can’t complain!”

A continuous trickle of life and blessings – I am deeply grateful.

I have discovered that the more we thank the Lord sincerely with all our heart, the more He draws us closer to Him. And when we are closer to Him, His blessings, though flowing in trickles, are magnified in such a way that they become bigger than our longings and desires. They become sources of great joy and gratitude so high and wide and deep they are immeasurable!

When Felix and the kids were away in Pampanga for the wedding of a young couple from Church, the threat of loneliness and bitterness hovered over me once again. My husband and I were principal sponsors and Tim was Bible bearer. The bride’s mother was a former employee of our company and who also happens to be my friend and the one who brought me to Jesus. So, we wanted to be present.

I persuaded Hannah, now a 15-year-old young adult who stands up to her Dad’s jaw, to be my proxy. After negotiations involving a promise of a Sakura watercolor set, she agreed. I had a full-lace, peach dress made for her, a new pair of quite expensive sleek heels, and a matching evening purse. She didn’t gloat as much as I did on those things, mind you (unlike me, she doesn’t have a single fashionista bone in her body 😀 ). But she was representing me and would be walking alongside her Dad on the aisle, so I didn’t want her looking shabby.

As we prepared on the wedding day, wistful thoughts came in and out of my mind, but I shoved them aside. Daddy and son were dapper in their suits. Wouldn’t it have been blissful if I were well and went with them with my own beautiful lace dress, walking with my husband, my hand wrapped around the crook of his arm?

My three loves at the wedding - The Lakeshore, Pampanga.

My three loves at the wedding – The Lakeshore, Pampanga.

It was a lakeside-and-wharf-themed wedding held at The Lakeshore Promenade in Mexico, Pampanga. How lovely is that? I wanted to be there, but I refused to think about the “what might have been” had I been well. The tempter came and tried to sow bitterness, saying, “How can you remain at peace with God when He denies the very things your soul so desires? How can you not be bitter against Him?”

I shook the thoughts away and shooed the pesky demon by not falling into his baits and taunts. I had been through enough pity parties and bitter sulks against God, I knew better.

And I have not forgotten my story. When the Lord Jesus found me, I was just out of a sinful relationship I barely survived, wrecking our family and another’s in the process. I was dying in my sin.

But Jesus came mightily with His love and light and the rest is history. His story, actually. All our salvation stories and testimonies are His. He has been writing them before the foundation of the world.

Now, He gives me enduring peace and joy that the world doesn’t understand. I feel loved by Him despite of lingering illness and physical difficulties. Do I have the license to be bitter after all He has done, saving me, wiping out all my sins, restoring my family, and sealing me for eternity, just because I”m not walking, running, or traveling as other people do? None whatsoever! His love is enough! We need to realize and understand that Jesus is enough and always will be. Can one attempt to measure Jesus’ love? Can one set boundaries to it?

It’s true that even at this hour, I’m still trying to know and grasp the width and length and depth and height of the love of Christ which passes knowledge (see Ephesians 3: 17-19). During those times of utter physical suffering, I secretly and silently questioned it in the depths of my soul. But now, He has translated the language of His love into something that I can comprehend, appreciate, and enjoy – healing (though partial), strength (both physical and spiritual), lessons learned (that would last me ’til eternity!), and joy overflowing!

With His latest gift to me – watercolor painting – He brings me fresh inspiration with each waking moment, filling my heart with bubbling eagerness to a promise of yet another day of vibrant colors and splashes that become beautiful works of art, sending my spirit into silently shouting, “Your compassions never fail! They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness!”

If we learn to dwell in the place of active and intentional thankfulness, the things that seem to be lacking in our lives are dwarfed and eventually become insignificant, as we learn to look not at the things that are temporal but at the things that are eternal.

(Photo from Pinterest).

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The Gathering Table

I know breakfasts and snack times would be fun around our granite island in the kitchen, flipping pancakes and drizzling waffles with golden syrup in the nearby counters and stove. But it’s too far for me even with my wheelchair. Our main dining room which is very rarely used would also be an stylish place to celebrate special occasions, but I’m not comfortable there for a long period of time. Sometimes when I’m feeling extraordinarily well and have enough courage and excitement to go out of our bedroom, the center table in the living room is a nice place to gather with my people to celebrate. I would be reclining on the sofa while they sit on the carpet around the table, Japanese-style. But that only happens once or twice a year.

gathering_table

So, there’s this mobile table that I had it custom-made some years ago for our bedroom. Actually, it’s a mobile kitchen and dining table in one. When I’m well and strong prodded by an inspiration to feed my family with home-cooked goodness, I cook on it using a single-burner electric stove or grill. Often, it’s a preparation area for whatever we’re baking. But everyday, we gather around it to eat, sip tea, talk, play, paint, craft. It has carved its own place in our home, like a hearth. Or an old faithful dog. Always there to serve. Always waiting for the next gathering.

Because of my health condition, that mobile table has become the gathering table for our family through the years. It’s not only a physical gathering, but I believe, a spiritual one as we partake in the food and laughter and love and the hovering presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, it’s not only a simple partaking for physical nourishment, but also a fellowship with Him who provides it all: the family, the love, the joy, the connection. It is a rejoicing and celebration with Him.

Our gathering table is a table of thanksgiving. I cannot count the times that we have lifted up praises and thanksgiving to God around it for the blessings, answered prayers, and victories, hearts full. Just simply, His goodness and faithfulness. And always, remembering to invite Him into our celebrations (He’s the very reason for them!) is remembering to strengthen the ties that bind us to His Kingdom and with each other. If we believe that God’s presence is everywhere, then He’s present in our celebrations, too. He sits with us, dines with us, and even laughs with us.

So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you and your house… (Deut. 26:11)

The story of our gathering table began years ago when our family was brittle, hurting, almost divided, the mended seams gaping open in some places. We were grappling with the change in our lives: struggling to follow Jesus’ and our Church’s teachings, to be pleasing to Him in how we live our new lives. And of course, there were my terrifying illness, the company which my husband took over and the many complexities and responsibilities that came with it, and the confusions and stresses that glued them all together so that we were weak against them. (And truth be told, the old and ugly attitudes of the “old man” were still clinging fast on us :(. I admit we were slow in bearing fruits).

My husband would often leave the house for the office after a painful, often ugly, disagreement, leaving me hurt and bewildered. Sometimes even young Hannah would receive sharp words from him and we would be clinging to each other after he had left, me, holding her tight, hoping that the words would be squeezed out of her pores. It was during these times that I intentionally stood up against the works of the devil in our lives: the strifes, the ugly and hurtful exchange of words, the heaviness, the pure misery. It was exactly these same things that drove me to rise up in victory, to create “beauty” in the face of the ugly. So, I would use every ounce of strength I had to prepare delicious food for the family and gather them around the table to humble ourselves before God, to tell Him about our miseries, and ask Him to turn the “ashes” into something beautiful. To transform the ugliness, darkness, and coldness that surrounded us into His light, love, and joy. We celebrated with the Lord to shake off the frolicking demons and trample them under our feet!

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! (Phil. 4:4)

Often, there were only the three of us gathered around: little girl Hannah, toddler Tim, and me. But I was thankful for those moments. I wanted our children to know and feel that love resided in our home. No matter what. The love and mercy of the Lord, His very presence – it’s what eases away the stinky, stinging,  black smoke of unkindness and harshness. The absence or lack of love among us.

Jesus’ love covers all our sins.

There were lasagna, grilled chicken, home-baked bread, ice cream, and any food that I believed the kids would like and appreciate. I would encourage them to smile. Laugh even. Yes, before long we would be laughing, pushing further away the hurts and the memory of them. And we were healed.

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Ps. 147:3)

So, our table had been a faithful witness to it all: the tears, the prayers, the persevering faith and hope. The love as fragile as thin ice over a frozen lake. With a single cold, hurtful word, it just might crack again.

That was the history of our gathering table, made sturdy with the stories of our individual lives and those of our family as a whole.

But in recent years, as dark clouds gave way to shimmering light, our gathering table has heard more laughter than it could take. The stories – funny, heartwarming, uplifting, meaningful, lessons-filled – are ingrained into the wood, creating a patina that makes its hue deeper and more homey. Like a grandmother’s embrace. Or an old friend’s.

But it’s not really about the furniture, is it? It’s not the wood, its grain pattern, or its hue. It’s really the power of God’s love that binds and draws us closer together around it. Subdued. Expectant. Grateful. Celebratory. It is sacred in its purpose and function. So, it doesn’t need to be our mobile table, our kitchen’s granite island, or our formal dining table. Wherever we are gathered around, there is family, community, and fellowship with the Lord’s Spirit.

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Mat. 18:20)

Recently, when the family was all agog because Hannah and Tim both received medals in academic excellence in school during the year-end Reading of Honors, our gathering table beckoned and I thought, “We need to celebrate and invite our one and only Guest of Honor.” Around the table, when we raised up our hands toward heaven and I recited a thanksgiving prayer, tears pooled in my eyes. The goodness and faithfulness of the Lord in our life are so very precious to us. And we invited Him to our table to partake in the joyous celebration.

What does your “gathering table” look like? What is its story? Its history? If it could talk, what would it tell?

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Living in God’s Faithfulness (Part Memoir)

A teacup I bought online from a local seller on IG reminded me of summers and rainy days gone by. The design is called Vintage Flowers and were it not for its price (I paid P560, roughly $12, for 2 sets of teacup and saucer), I wouldn’t have looked at it twice. But later on as I thought about it, the vintage flowers hue pasted on my mind, I was brought back to that little bedroom with the dilapidated balcony in my grandmother’s old house. And I was six years old again. One of my life’s greatest treasures are my childhood memories. They remain as vivid as the colorful butterflies that swarmed the blooming lantanas on summer mornings.

God's_faithfulness

The painted flowers on the antique bed’s iron headboard were like those on the teacup as I remember it. As we sat on that narrow bed, my eldest cousin (I was 5 or 6 and she was forever a grown-up lady) told me stories about the novels she read. I listened mesmerized. It was in that little room which smelled of an attar of freshly-starched laundry, talcum powder, naphthaline, and the adhering scent of decades-old memories that I first fell in love with reading.

Sprawled at the threshold of the crumbling balcony, I would read aloud, the vast, endless sky my ceiling and the trees and the birds my audience. It was an age of discovery and wonder. And security. Summers which saw trees lit up by droves of fireflies on dark nights and dragonfly catching as they came out to hover over the flowers when the sun was up.

That old house had long been torn down, but my beautiful memories of it remain alive. I keep them all in a treasure trove deep in my soul. It’s a testimony of God’s fierce love and care, maybe an imprint of forever in my heart.

If I need to feel Jesus’ love, I remember those days, those days when He answered even before I called (tears). For He healed me each time the flu visited. The steaming hot native chicken soup with ampalaya leaves tasted like heaven as healing and recovery melded with restored appetite (more tears). If the gracious Lord had been so caring when I was little, He was mighty strong when I went to college with big dreams in my heart and little (or sometimes none at all) money in my pocket. So, He blessed me.

If He was faithful then, He is still faithful today, even though life may have taken a new turn. Seasons change as surely as the sun rises in the east, but Jesus remains the same (Heb. 13:8); God says of Himself that He changes not (Mal. 3:6). Our lives change for a reason and purpose according to His will. This I have learned the hard way. No matter. The same God who smiled down at me as I chased butterflies and dragonflies in the heat of summer and waded through rain-flooded fields picking up snails is the same God who walks with me now through the “wilderness”.

I find great comfort from what David had declared. I believe these words took their form from God’s promise in Isaiah 46:3.

But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.
I was cast upon You from birth.
From My mother’s womb
You have been My God. (Ps. 22:9-10)

From the very first breath we took out of our mother’s womb, God has been present and looking on with everlasting love. If we can’t believe this, how can we believe the miracle of life which is continually happening all around us? For how can the throbbing little heart and tender flesh and bones of a helpless babe grow with only the mother’s breast and love without the nurturing power of the heavenly Father who makes it all possible? Like the expectant seedling breaking through the dark earth to kiss the sun and drink in CO2, life is both a miracle and a gift, the main thread that weaves God’s grand scheme of things. Like what David wrote, we were cast upon Him from birth and we became His constant concern.

But God’s knowledge of us even goes farther than the day we first saw the light. From the foundation of the world, He chose us (see Eph. 1:4). In whatever manner we’ve been called, there has been a transformation in our life, a palpable change. To many of us, the change was so radical, fiery trials and all, that we didn’t know what hit us and we couldn’t help but wonder as though some strange thing happened to us (1 Pet. 4:12).

And we want to know and understand if God is really in all of it. In the early part of my salvation then subsequent trials, I found the answer I was looking for in Romans 8 and my soul found great relief and comfort. The words seemed to shine and leap off the page and spoke powerfully to me that I wrote at the margin of my Bible: God has indeed called me!

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30)

Concerning us whom He has called:

He foreknew

He predestined

He called

He justified

He glorified

There is a master plan set from the foundation of the world and we have a vital part in it, according to His will and by His own grace. He will see it through to the end.

For those of us who are presently weighed down by trials that we groan in our spirits, we can find encouragement from Apostle Peter’s words:

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Pet. 4:12,13,16)

I believe the suffering that is mentioned above is not from illness or disease of the body, for how can Christ the Healer be glorified in it? But He will be glorified in our healing. Even so, I believe it is through the placidness of our spirit amid the storm that He is also glorified.

Just recently, I silently cried towards heaven and poured out the bitterness of my soul, not to grouse, but more like Hannah who prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish (1 Sam. 1:10). I feel like my physical suffering is like a battering ram that mercilessly beats my already weak body and it is wearying. It is during these desperate times that I feel my courage wane.

But I always find strength in the Word. Always. And lately, I’ve been drawing comfort and courage from this promise of His:

Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you. (Is. 46:4)

I want to emulate Joseph who, from his youth, went through hard and painful trials and yet, remained steadfast and unmovable in his faith in God. And God blessed him immensely in the latter part of his life. I believe this is the pattern that secures a blessed future. May we adopt this steadfastness and placidness of heart and spirit as we live in God’s faithfulness.

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God’s Unique Ways

I stood before the white formica counter lined with beakers containing various emulsions that we were evaluating, a cellphone pressed to my ear as I talked to the representative of Ichimaru, one of our company’s major suppliers based in Gifu. I was in the laboratories of Ajinomoto in Kawasaki, another major Japanese supplier, together with other distributors from surrounding Asian countries. It would have been a thrilling experience for me, being a chemical engineer by profession, to work in an advanced cosmetic lab had I been well. But I was already sick even before I went to this trip, a weeklong technical training, against my doctor’s advice.

Standing in my low-heeled pumps – enduring what seemed to be a million tiny needles pricking the soles of my feet and worse, it felt like the insides of my shoes were lined with sharp pebbles, my back was screaming in pain all I wanted to do was lie down right there on the lab floor – I told my supplier I was sorry I needed to cancel my trip to Gifu. I needed to go home because I was sick.

The Gifu supplier was eagerly anticipating my visit to their place and manufacturing plant after being in partnership with them for 5 years. I could feel their disappointment.

From Kawasaki to Tokyo, I went home to Manila very sick and weak. A few days later, I received salvation. This was in October 2003. From that day on, I hadn’t been able to go back to work. In 2007 while still waiting for healing, the Lord spoke clearly in my heart: I wasn’t going back to my career even when He had already healed me. I cried buckets, but in the end, I submitted to His will. For who has resisted His will? Hoping to gain His favor for my complete healing, I vowed to never go back to work and turned my back to my career for good. For years I grieved for it.

But I trust that God has a beautiful purpose for me. It will unfold in His own perfect time.

In 2004, my husband took over the management of my company. He is a mechanical engineer by profession and worked in a food manufacturing plant for decades. He didn’t have a clue as far as cosmetic ingredients were concerned. But he depended heavily on God, praying and fasting and faithful in giving our tithes and love offerings. He studied hard, too. And on days that I was well enough to give him some tips, he listened well. He was always grateful for the advice.

In the intervening years after that phone call in Ajinomoto laboratories, God showed up mighty powerful. Though our lives were shaken hard beyond our worst nightmare, He gradually and surely put everything into place. I realized later, not without frequent bouts of bitterness and struggles against resentment and heartaches, that placing my husband at the helm of our company was the most excellent thing to happen. He is the leader of our family, that includes our business. There were hard, difficult-to-swallow lessons that God wanted me to learn and important things that I needed to let go. Year after difficult and painful year, I did slowly surrender control, in my mind, in my words and actions, and sincerely in my heart.

Now, almost 12 years later, my husband travelled to Japan to visit the manufacturing plant of our Gifu supplier and attend a convention in Yokohama. The dream was fulfilled through him and rather than be bitter and resentful about it, I chose to be happy for him and rejoice with him. Through the years, the Lord has immensely blessed him as the president of our cosmetic ingredients company and in the process, prospering further our business. My heart is grateful. I take David’s words and lift them up to the Lord:

Your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. (Ps. 26:3)

God works in marvellous ways, ways we often do not comprehend. But Apostle Paul had somewhat grasped His mysterious ways when he wrote:

But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; 28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, 29 that no flesh should glory in His presence. (1 Cor. 1:27-29)

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Even So, His Grace is Sufficient

One morning last week as I exercised my legs using my walker, just making small steps as I swayed with the music, I was suddenly gripped by a wave of strong emotions. Agnus Dei was blaring from my docked iPod and I was looking closely at my feet as they made the slow steps, then I felt my spirit lifted up and tears sprang to my eyes. The instinctive feeling was that of self-pity, then rightly followed by hunger. Hunger to become well and strong and walking and going places to win souls. Eleven years ago, I was walking and working and traveling. But all that ceased.

Even so…

I feel the fierce love of Jesus everyday. I’ve learned to rest in that love which never condemns, never rejects and drives away, and never ever grows cold.

I make mistakes. My weaknesses frustrate me to the point that I berate myself and sometimes I can’t fully accept and love me.

Even so…

He’s teaching me everyday that in missteps I learn to walk straight. That through my mistakes and weaknesses, He breaks me, so I might learn to be strong and courageous. To overcome. To study and analyze, to think deeper. To learn the lessons and know Him more. And yet, He does it all in the circle of His love. He loves me even when I try to reject myself. This is grace.

Many times I think of myself as not victorious, but defeated. As unworthy and unlovable.

Even so…

He doesn’t fail to draw me near Him. When I bow down and humble myself before Him with tears of repentance and hunger to feel His heart, with my song of worship more whispered than sung, He is ready to meet me. He dances with me even as my legs could hardly make the steps. How can I ever think of trading this undeserved love for anything in the world? For if I have Jesus, I won’t have lack of anything.

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness…” (2 Cor. 12:9)

One time, my beloved husband came into the room while I was doing walking exercises with my waker. Through It All was playing in my docked iPod. He came near and held me and tried to dance with me. Just like old times. But I was sad. Illness and suffering and sorrow bowed down my head.

Even so…

My Savior, the King of kings and Lord of lords, is the lifter of my head.

But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me;
my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. (Ps. 3:3)

So, I trudge on. For He is ever with me. From here to eternity.

Dear reader, these words are for you, too. They are dedicated to you.

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Vantage Point

Meditating on Psalm 144:

Blessed be the Lord my Rock…
2 My lovingkindness and my fortress,
My high tower and my deliverer,
My shield and the One in whom I take refuge… (vv. 1-2)

David begins this psalm, like most of the others he’d written, with praise. He had experienced first-hand God’s mighty deliverance over and over again as he went to battle against his foes. From the very first day that he stepped on the battleground to take on Goliath, without armor and shield but only his sling – he had trusted fully in the living God. He had seen how God gave him strength to kill the wolves and bears that attacked the flock he tended with only his bare hands. His faith in God enabled him to convert those episodes of victory on the hills to the battlefield, toppling kings and princes of the heathen nations in his wake.

Surely, if we allow God in all areas of our lives – marriage, family, motherhood, work, etc. – He will show Himself mighty to us, too. If we run to Him, bearing our problems, broken hearts, sick bodies, unquiet minds, and all our other urgent petitions – He will also become to us a refuge, a strong tower, a mighty fortress, our deliverer, healer, shield, problem-solver, provider. He will become to us our everything as David had made Him his.

Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?
Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him?
4 Man is like a breath;
His days are like a passing shadow. (vv. 3-4)

Because of the Lord Almighty’s wondrous work in David’s life, he couldn’t help but marvel, “What is man that you’re mindful of him?” Because of the mighty deeds of the Lord in his life that were magnified many times over, David saw himself as small, a mere mortal. Though a mighty warrior, he possessed the heart of a humble servant and took the posture of complete humility before God. From this vantage point, he was able to see the highness, the majesty, the excellency of God as against his humanity.

This passage got me to thinking: It is because of where we have put ourselves that sometimes our vantage points propel us to demand of God, put the blame on Him when things don’t go our way, or even accuse Him when bad things happen. I know there are people who treat God as if He owed them anything! I think this is a most unfortunate place to be: to think that God only exists to wait on us at our beck and call. But if we shift our positions and take that low place, we will be able to see and appreciate what God is really doing in our lives. That He is actually at work for all of us, for all of humanity, 24/7.

If we have allowed Him into our lives and walk with Him everyday, we will be in that position to praise and glorify Him and be in awe of His salvation, deliverance, healing, and miracles. And you know what? We will know what David had known all along:

Happy are the people who are in such a state;
Happy are the people whose God is the Lord! (v. 15)

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