Remember Grace

One late at night last week while Felix was away in the province and I was alone in our room, the enemy attacked all of a sudden. It started with labored breathing, then my insides shook like when you feel really cold. But my two layers of blanket couldn’t reach to the core of my body to warm it. The shaking and weakness spread to my legs until they seemed lifeless. The twitching muscles made them limp. I wanted to just curl up and let the strange suffering pass, but I couldn’t do that either. I tried to vomit to relieve me, but the shaking inside continued, from my belly, sides, and up to my abdomen. While sitting up, I raised my hand and prayed and begged God to heal me and relieve me of what I was experiencing, then I cast out the demons of illness that were attacking me. I was becoming scared. I lay back on my pillows, put my Bible under me, turned off the aircon (although the room wasn’t that cold), covered myself with my blankets, then forced myself to lie still in a prone position. My heart was beating fast which was making me feel exhausted. There was nothing more I could do but to wait for the mercy of God.

TULIPS IN BLUE AND WHITE VASE. My watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper.

TULIPS IN BLUE AND WHITE VASE. My watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper.

This kind of suffering, in all of its forms and insidiousness, has been a part of my life these past 13 years. There are times I wanted to wave my fist at it, at the unseen demons lurking in space, and challenge them to battle, but what good would that do? I want to pound the demons of illness and suffering to pieces, if only I could see what I am up against. This suffering, it leaves a bad and bitter taste in my mouth that I want to spew out once and for all. If only spitting it out would do the trick.

(My scary experience that night reenforced my perseverance in casting out demons of sickness and suffering in full faith and power and authority in Jesus’ name and not to grow faint and give in to the devil’s wishes).

That night, after waiting out for the shaking to stop and for my insides to settle and my heart to beat normally, it finally came after more than half an hour or so. My heart gradually returned to its normal beating and I felt my whole body warm up. The feeling was almost heavenly and I was lulled to sleep because of the warmth and exhaustion.

There had been such episodes of warmth and peace before, healing moments I call them, when the relief from suffering felt like I was being lifted up from the bed and rocked gently in the clouds to sleep. I remembered them then before I succumbed to a peaceful slumber.

In the morning when I woke up, I remembered the suffering of the night before. In my mind, I gave form to the subconscious thoughts that have always plagued me these many years of suffering so much.

Does God really love me? If He does, why does He let me suffer so much and this long? Is He always angry at me? Unfavorable? Displeased? Why does He punish me so severely and would not relent?

But even as I entertained these bitter thoughts, wisdom was squeezing itself hard into the forefront of my brain, wanting to be heard.

Does not wisdom cry out,
And understanding lift up her voice? (Prov. 8:1)

I listened to wisdom and truth enveloped my whole being.

It is not God who is making me suffer. God isn’t my enemy, the devil is. God, who loves me with an everlasting love, will not do that to me, will not punish me until I am crying out for mercy. He doesn’t take pleasure in inflicting me pain. The devil does.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. (Ps. 103:8)

I took hold of the truth even as it took hold of me. I sat up and raised my hands toward heaven and said,

Father in heaven, in Your name my dearest Lord Jesus Christ. You are a merciful God, compassionate and full of grace. You loved me even when I was a sinner and unworthy of Your love. You cared for me so much You poured out Your love and life on Calvary. You saved me from hell because I matter to You. It is not You who are making me suffer for You are good and faithful to me.

I remember Your grace poured out upon me and I know You love me.

After the storm, the birds come out of hiding to sing. They don’t wave their fists toward heaven and rant why their nests fell to the ground and their young left pitifully as the storm battered and buffeted them. The flowers open up towards the sun slowly emerging out of the parting clouds, greeting the world and their Creator with their radiant faces.

Humans lament and complain.

Remember grace.

Grace poured out upon us beyond measure, more than 2000 years ago, even before Calvary. On a holy, chilly night in the hill country.

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

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-14, emphasis added)

good tidings of great joy

peace

goodwill to all men

They all spell G-R-A-C-E.

The spouse, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker hurt you and made you cry because of his/her ill treatment of you? Cry some. Pray big. Fully forgive. Remember grace.

Grace received, grace given away.

Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more (see Rom. 5:20).

Grace is the channel through which all God’s blessings flow.

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Cup Running Over

After my leisurely evening bath in my new bathtub and then a round of Scrabble with the family, where as usual, was raucous and the hot fries went flying as fast as the hand could travel from the bowl to the mouth and back again until there was nothing left but a few salt crystals – I rested with a heart overflowing with thanksgiving.

psalm23

How could I not be steeped with gratitude at that moment, I felt so full the words of thanksgiving flowed from my lips like a stream? If you have dwelt long in a place where there’s only suffering, fear, and death hovering around you like a gnat hovers over a carabao (water buffalo), the simplest of things that bring you joy would be a reason to rejoice and thank God. There were long seasons, almost covering a year, when I was too ill and weak I couldn’t bathe. Thin layer of dirt mottled my otherwise flawless skin like maps. And when I had regained some strength, a sponge bath in bed was all I could have.

If you had been in the lowest valley of the shadow of death for a long time and the only things that made you alive were your undying faith and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, the experience of recovery, no matter how hard and slow, would be to you a glorious one. A blessing so wonderful you will not forget to thank the Lord each and every day.

So, even if my family traveled to Island Cove in the historic province of Cavite and then to Timberland up in the mountains of San Mateo without me, I would remain joyful and grateful. Even if I cannot walk and travel, even if there are deep longings in my heart for my fervent dreams to be fulfilled, I choose to look at the little gifts the Lord scatters in my day everyday, like finding diamonds in the dust.

My husband insisted that he buy me a bathtub where I can bathe properly and even enjoy it. (About 3 years ago, we remodelled our adjoining bathroom to give leeway for my wheelchair. The old, embedded bathtub had to be removed). I’ve always wanted the classic bathtub, the one which stands regally on 4 clawed feet. It touches my incurably romantic soul :) . And since its smaller, it would fit perfectly in our bathroom.

Felix found the perfect one. He showed me a photo and I liked it instantly. But it wasn’t cheap. For me, it was too expensive I couldn’t possibly pamper myself with such luxury, so I vehemently told him not to buy it. True, we bought a faux rattan furniture for our patio just recently and the price was almost the same with that of the bathtub. But I had wanted to spend some time outside in our garden to breathe  in fresh air and look at the trees and the sky. Before Holy Week, we levelled out the floor of the patio (our bedroom opens to the patio) so my wheelchair could pass through without inconvenience. Then we bought the very comfy rattan sofa with plush cushions and pillows. I can now spend leisurely my afternoons and evenings there, that is, before the mosquitoes come to fly me away 😀 .

When Felix said that he found one which was 10,000 pesos ($200) cheaper, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart that a bathtub would make my life happier and more comfortable. (Previously, after my husband had bathed me in our bed, we had to dry it for hours because it had been flooded).

Is it selfish to receive God’s generous gifts? Is it bad to enjoy His bountiful blessings? I endeavor to live simply and modestly, remembering how the Lord Jesus had nowhere to lay His head (see Matthew 8:20). But if He chooses to heap His blessings upon us in whatever form – physically, materially, spiritually – should we not receive them with open arms and give Him thanks for them?

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. (1 Tim. 6:17, emphasis added)

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Able-bodied people soak in bathtubs, indulge in spas, swim in pools, and bask in beaches without a mind for it. But for weak, ailing people like me, the things that healthy people take for granted are a luxury. My bathtub is so cute and sleek (wink) and comfortable. The comfortably warm water feels good on my body and induces me to sleep better. When Felix poured my Aveeno lavender foam bath, the scent which I like so much soothed me and the gentle white foams caressed my body (a body that has suffered a lot). As I luxuriated in my fragrant bath, I felt the love of my good and generous Father embracing me.

To be loved and cherished by the ever-loving, ever-giving God, is a blessing beyond measure. My cup runneth over and thanksgiving is poured out towards heaven.

I love You, I love You, I love You!

(That lovely lavender foam bath led to my desire for our cosmetic ingredients company to expand and venture into essential and fragrance oils. By the grace of God, we found a manufacturer and supplier in India, where rare and precious spices, and yes, essential oils, come from. Although I had retired from work since I got ill, I helped our company conceptualize the promotional materials. I painted a pretty floral and herbs border for the product lists and a lavender wreath for the label. A simple announcement was made on our company website, which I also administer, by God’s grace).

IMG_5231

Being able to use my gifts even in a simple way is another form of blessing and source of joy which I am deeply grateful for.

My soul shouts to my Lord Jesus, my Savior and faithful Father in heaven! I make my soulfelt thanksgiving a worship.

Amazement

Awe

Wonder

That night that I went to bed with heart overflowing, Psalm 23 came to mind. I love Psalm 23. It is a hope and strength and comforting companion in and through the shadow of the valley of death, but even out of it. It is a psalm often recited in death beds and funerals, but it is actually a psalm for the living! For the delivered, the healed, the tried and tested, the favored, the truly blessed!

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps. 23)

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Blessed (Makarios)

I’ve been wanting to tell everyone about the adhering peace and joy in abiding in the Lord even amid diverse trials. But I couldn’t quite grasp the exact explanation and I wouldn’t want to be found lacking, especially by those who are not yet in Christ and are full of skepticism (and there are those who profess that they believe and serve the Lord but are doubtful of His workings; these are the ones who easily grow weary and complain when circumstances become hard). Then I read in my new devotional, A Word for the Day: Key Words from the New Testament, the deeper meaning of “blessed” in Greek from which it was translated.

blessed

In the introduction of the book, the author discussed extensively the importance of learning the Greek meaning of the key words used in the New Testament of the Bible. He explained that often, the English language falls short in accurately translating many Greek words, that is why it is good to go back to the original Greek meaning to gain a deeper understanding and make our faith walk more meaningful. (With that, I was fully convinced and really wanted to learn them, too, and not to seem scholarly :) ). One of those key words is blessed or makarios in Greek.

First, makarios speaks of “contentedness”. The idea is an inward contentedness that is not affected by circumstances. This is indeed the kind of happiness and contentedness that God desires for His children – a state of joy and wellbeing that does not depend upon physical, temporary circumstances.

Second, makarios goes even deeper, as Greek scholar Spiros Zodhiates points out, to refer to “possessing the favor of God, the state of being marked by fullness from God.” As Romans 4:7-8 declares, “Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin.”

Third, deeper still, one who is blessed is “one who becomes partaker of God’s nature through faith in Christ (see 2 Pet. 1:4). Zodhiates again offers, “To be makarios, blessed, is equivalent to having God’s kingdom within one’s heart. Makarios is the one who is in the world yet independent of the world. His satisfaction comes from God and not from favourable circumstances.”

(Quoted from A Word for the Day by J. D. Watson, p. 12).

This is exactly the thing I was looking for to be able to explain the steadfast peace and joy I have been experiencing throughout my many trials. I was trying to find possible, tangible “reasons” for this, why it is so, so that I could be able to share it with others, too. Now I have my answer: It is inherent in our blessedness. When we are blessed by God, we are also endowed with contentedness, the kind that is not affected by our circumstances. As the author of the book beautifully states, “a state of joy and wellbeing that does not depend upon physical, temporary circumstances”, which is exactly what God desires for His children.

This is what has been holding me all throughout my various difficult trials: a state of joy and peace which only God can give. There will always be seasons and reasons when we feel unhappy and discouraged, but our blessedness in the Lord is not affected by any of our circumstances. We are still that, blessed, makarios, although sometimes it doesn’t seem that way to our limited vision and finite understanding. In this state of blessedness:

  • There is strength in times of weakness, encouragement in times of doubt.

God is the lifter of our heads. (Ps. 3:3)

His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (See 2 Cor. 12:9).

God is faithful, He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that we may be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13).

  • There is revival in times of weariness.

Times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord (see Acts 3:19).

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

The Lord was talking about the Holy Spirit which He will give to all who receive Him.

  • There is inspiration in times of dissatisfaction and drought.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)

He gave gifts to men (see Eph. 4:8).

Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom. 5:5)

The Holy Spirit is an undying flame and well of inspiration to us.

  • There is peace that passes understanding and unbroken joy.

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

These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)

All these things point us to the sufficiency of God’s grace. It’s what sustains the blessedness. Moreover, it is the seed planted in us, nurtured by the Holy Spirit and the Word, until it bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). In this fruitfulness (blessedness), we become partaker of God’s nature, as the Greek Scholar Zodhiates said above. With the Holy Spirit residing in us, empowering us, it’s really that the kingdom of God has come upon us (Mat. 12:28). What a blessing!

We received this blessedness from the moment we received the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. Imagine, complete forgiveness in place of our sins, eternal life in place of death! Nothing can ever equal this blessing. It won’t even suffice to put an adjective before it. It is a blessing pure and true, period.

And yet, trials and tribulations sometimes blind us to this truth. We forget this state of blessedness as we are subjected to God’s refining and pruning work by means of difficult and painful tests, then behold others having the time of their lives. We remember again the complaints of Asaph in Psalm 73. But when the Lord made him see the end of those who live in pleasure now, he realized that true blessedness in God is in being continually in His presence.

There’s a story I heard in church about the fattened pig. The pig is fed day after day by its master. It didn’t do anything but eat and rest and live easy, unlike the horse or the ox in the farm. Then one day, it was taken away to be slaughtered.

But we do not rejoice in the destruction of the wicked just as God doesn’t.

“Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?” (Eze. 18:23)

In love, we pray for the salvation of the lost. We remember those who prowl the streets at night – men, women and children – committing all kinds of sin. And we pray for them. We give not only of our resources but of our time and love in prayer. The Lord Jesus said,

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

There again is our blessedness played out in love. For true blessedness doesn’t envy, but blesses others, too.

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Healer of Hearts

Meditating on Psalm 147.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
Sing praises on the harp to our God,
8 Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who prepares rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.
9 He gives to the beast its food,
And to the young ravens that cry. (vv. 7-9)

In this psalm, the psalmist once again praises the glory, grace, and goodness of God. There are many things going on in this psalm, but I’d like us to bring our focus on this:

He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds. (v. 3)

This has been our running theme in recent posts – how that the Lord weaves a beautiful love story in our lives if only we give ourselves wholly to Him. The above verse gave a name to my story. Before I gave my life to Jesus, broken in body, heart, and spirit, I never thought that He alone could heal my brokenness and bind up my gaping wounds. The devil is way too cruel to leave you with a flimsy thread of hope of ever mending, once you ventured anywhere near his lair. Like living a life of adultery. You become his. That’s exactly how he left me – helplessly clinging to the thin thread that connected me to whatever was left of my life.

Then Jesus came, with His power, light, and love. I thought I only sought Him for forgiveness of my sins so I could die at peace with God. But there was also hope that maybe He’d be merciful enough to heal my body, too. But He did much more than anything I had hoped for. His grace abounded to me. “…But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20). He redeemed my soul, cleansed me from the sin of my dark past, restored my family, healed our broken hearts and bound up our wounds.

He can easily do those things in just one stroke of His powerful hand. “He sends out His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly” (v. 15). And yet, there are still many who don’t want to be anywhere near Him. They insist on seeking cure for their ailments elsewhere, not knowing that it’s probably their souls that were sick and suffering and need healing.

My prayer for the broken is this: That the Savior Jesus Christ be their Redeemer, Healer, Restorer. That He will reign in their hearts and minds and be their Lord and King.

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When You’re All Alone in Your Pain

Meditating on Psalm 142.

Look on my right hand and see,
For there is no one who acknowledges me;
Refuge has failed me;
No one cares for my soul. (v. 4)

We have David weeping and crying out to the Lord again. Alone in the cave he resorted to, fleeing his enemies, he lamented his predicament. He felt so all alone, deserted, bereft of someone, anyone, who could comfort his soul. Except the Lord. When David found himself in the isolated island of loneliness, fear, and uncertainty, he cried out to God. He knew that in Him, he was never really alone.

I cried out to You, O Lord:
I said, “You are my refuge,
My portion in the land of the living. (v. 5)

Have you been in that place? A dark, damp, musty cave where there was no escaping? The jagged walls are hostile, cold, and wet. Creepy creatures seem to lurk in the dark nooks waiting to make their attack. Well, you may not find yourself in a real cave like that, but still, you feel alone and scared and the world around you seems not to care, or cold and hostile even.

I have been in that horrifying place. When sin and guilt morphed into a full-blown monster and attacked my mind, I was like a trembling leaf petrified to the core. I went out but the demons of fear followed me. They were in the restaurant where I ate, or in the mall, or in the corridors of the hospital where I walked with shaky legs, or in the doctors’ clinics that smelled of antiseptic. Or in the dimly-lit room of the psychiatrist (now, that was like a cave minus the stalactites and stalagmites). The people around me and in the other tables talked and laughed like I wasn’t unraveling and crumbling inside. To be sitting there, feeling like a whirlwind is swallowing you up into the depths, and yet, they don’t know – is a pure chilling feeling. That is what it feels to be isolated, deserted.

The people who try to help cannot really do it. They cannot reach that far or that deep. No doctors, no therapists, no friends, no family – yes, just like David – can reach out to save the drowning. Only Jesus. I have been in that place and have found out that only Jesus can reach out that far and deep and dangerous. Only He has the unequalled power and the intensity of unconditional love to save and deliver. He gained it from His death on the cross – our redemption and salvation, our healing, our deliverance from the dark cave, the whirlwind, the dimly-lit psychiatrist’s office, and the demons. All the things that ever imprisoned us.

There is nothing that His grace cannot reach and His love cannot cover. He fills all things and He’s in all things.

 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) Eph. 4:9-10 NIV

When you think you’re all alone in your fear and pain, you’re never really alone. Run to Jesus. He is our refuge, our portion in the land of the living. He will deal bountifully with us.

Bring my soul out of prison,
That I may praise Your name;
The righteous shall surround me,
For You shall deal bountifully with me. (v. 7)

(Photo courtesy of my cousin Bill Raras).

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Journey with Jesus,