Life Hidden with Christ

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a fellow Christian artist friend. She knows the physical difficulties I am going through (in fact, she gave me an emu balm she bought during her trip to New Zealand to help soothe my atrophying legs) and she also shared her own health problems (although I could sense that she was trying to downplay her own health challenges because she knows how hard I’m suffering). At the end of our exchange through Viber, she expressed her faith in our Lord Jesus healing us both, and I replied that yes, He will keep us and protect us under the shadow of His wings. For I felt then that, we, as mothers who long to be strong and live long on the earth, need the Lord’s all-encompassing protection and keeping.

hidden with Christ

I was feeling frustrated while painting something for my blog theme, for I felt exhausted after even just half an hour working. But my Lord comforted me, whispering to my heart that it’s okay, that I need not rush things and I need not produce perfect. Just something to bring Him joy.

When I am sick, weak, and fearful, all I want to be is under the shadow of God’s wings. I want to hide myself in that safe place from everything that’s making my life hard until it all comes to pass. Sometimes, that means I am invisible to the world, too, and that’s fine with me. Being hidden, obscured from the world’s prying eyes, is a definition of safe and peaceful for me. For the more than 13 years of illness, I’m used to my quiet life at home.

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me!
For my soul trusts in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge,
Until these calamities have passed by. (Ps. 57:1)

When life is looking up bright and some measure of wellness is mine to hold, I venture out into the world, albeit virtually through social media. I would share photos of our family and our simple celebrations. I would share my art and words to encourage. I also like the connection I have, especially in Facebook, with loved ones and friends old and new, far and near.

My motive for sharing our life in photos and words through Facebook is to let others know that despite my health situation, we are doing fine by the grace of God. That there is real joy and peace in our hearts despite the trials, and there is always a reason to celebrate and thank the Lord. Whenever I arise from the ash heap of sickness and suffering, I post a photo of myself (in a pretty blouse and maxi skirt and with a light makeup) as a testimony of God’s enduring mercy and to send a message to the world: “Hey, the Lord keeps me alive!” I want God to be glorified in that regard.

But sometimes, I can overdo it. Sometimes, the inner motive becomes something like, “Hey, people! We are doing fine, far better than you think. We are not left behind. We are not pitiful. See? We’re having a party. The husband and the kids went to this place and that place, etc. etc.” It is then that the motive is tinged with pride and comparison.

Sad to say, social media is not all connection, but also a breeding ground for comparison. And competition.

With great dismay, I have examined my heart and found out that not all my motives in posting on social media are pure. They are tainted, in one way or another, with pride and the desire to be admired. It is terrible, I know, but that is the human heart if we don’t search it every now and then and let the Holy Spirit guide it even in the smallest matters, like posting on social media.

I’m not sure if this is true for you, too, but I think that there is this tendency of the human nature to flaunt to the world that one’s life is beautiful, even if only on social media. If a life is “true and through” good and beautiful in the Lord Jesus Christ, then go ahead and testify it to the world, for God’s glory and honor and for the edification of others. Nothing more, nothing less. Never to make others feel envious, or less-than, or miserable. And even if that isn’t our purpose, we may still end up affecting others in a negative way if we are not careful.

Our lives in the Lord should edify and not bring others down. Edification is defined as the instruction or improvement of a person morally or intellectually*.

So, when I felt that connection in Facebook has turned to comparison and realized that my life was overwhelmed with envy and that I wasn’t growing spiritually but rather shrinking inwardly, I slowly retreated to the quiet of my solitude.

In the past, I used to think that my life in obscurity is something to be ashamed of. I don’t want people feeling sorry for me and our family. I don’t want them thinking that we’re not normal. So, when I saw the opportunity through Facebook to let others know we’re thriving in spite of, I grabbed that.

But now, the Lord is teaching me that the hidden life, the unknown, obscure life we live for Him is not something to be ashamed of. Life still happens, very much throbbing with events, both miraculous and mundane, even if the world doesn’t see. Even though it’s hidden from the world’s stage, life’s every moment still matters, every season full of purpose and meaning, when lived at the center of God’s will and love. We have only one audience. God. There is only one we need to please to the uttermost. God.

Many people including myself, want approval. But there is only one approval we need to seek. God’s.

The days I was putting up this blogpost, I reached Judges 13 in my Bible reading. Manoah seemed so in awe of the message of the angel regarding the birth of their son Samson that he blurted out, “What is your name, that when your words come to pass we may honor you?” But the angel of the Lord was quick to reply: his name is secret. He wanted to remain anonymous. He wouldn’t receive honor from men, only God’s esteem.

Like the angel of the Lord, may we not seek to be honored and applauded. May we always seek to bring glory and honor to God and not to ourselves.

Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Col. 3:2-4)

*From the online dictionary.

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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,

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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Journey with Jesus,

Nurturing Self

I am not writing about how to pamper ourselves because the world is so full of that already. We read it in a cornucopia of self-help books and websites and we see it in heavy doses in ads and even on our FB feeds as friends share the different ways they pamper themselves. The idea to write about this came as I observed how the Holy Spirit has been whispering into my heart about how I have been caring or not caring for myself. The whispers come like an angel’s breath when I’m resting my ailing body. I have come to understand from these I-rest-and-He-speaks times that the Lord is so compassionate He wants us to care for ourselves wholly.

nurturing_self

The Lord does command, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Denying oneself means turning away from the things of this world: secular pleasures and pursuits, the things that could bring fleeting happiness but are not aligned with God’s will and won’t earn us treasures in heaven. Even careers, jobs, wealth, dreams, plans — the Lord may desire us to give them all up for His kingdom. For those in the household of faith, we have crosses to carry as we follow the Shepherd of our souls. And by His grace, we will faithfully take them up.

But He does invite us to rest, too. He says, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). Years ago, I understood the Lord’s compassion, His desire for us to be cared for, especially when we’re weak and recovering. In Mark chapter 5, we read the story of Jairus and her sick daughter. The Lord raised her up and instructed that something should be given her to eat. Also, in the story of Feeding the Five Thousand, he didn’t want to send the multitude away hungry. So, He fed them with fish and bread that He multiplied miraculously.

The Lord wants us to care for ourselves both with rest and nourishment.

The Lord Jesus and His disciples came to the home of Martha and Mary. Martha, anticipating that dinner must be served to her very important as well as tired and hungry visitors, fussed in the kitchen, cooking up a storm while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, enrapt as she listened to the Messiah. Martha complained to the Lord, but the Lord rebuked her gently, pointing out to her that Mary had chosen “that good part” and it wouldn’t be taken away from her (see Luke 10:38-42).

The Lord wants us to nurture ourselves with His eternal words. He wants us to draw close to Him, be still before Him, and listen to His voice. For “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mat. 4:4).

To pamper is “to treat with excessive indulgence”, while to nurture is “to feed and protect; to support and encourage, help develop, cultivate; to bring up, train, educate.”

The Lord wants us to nurture ourselves, not only our families, so that we can be shining vessels for Him, a sanctuary of His Holy Spirit.

Physical Nurturing

I need to rest my body many times a day. Even though I don’t do any heavy tasks, I still need to cease from all work — whether writing, reading, assisting my children with their lessons, watercolor painting, etc. Often, my body touches the bed with a terrifying need to recover. I lie very still and concentrate on breathing. If I can, I fasten my mind onto thoughts that would distract me from focusing on my suffering; otherwise, I just say Hallelujah! in my mind in rhythm with my heartbeat. Thankfully, in less than an hour, everything within me settles into a blissful calm and warmth. That should be the fruit of resting in the Lord. For He said, “You will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Mat. 11:29-30).

These are the times I’ve been hearing the Holy Spirit whisper. He tells me that it’s okay to linger in that rest and savor the steady rhythm of breathing the Lord has blessed me with after a hard struggle. To rest is a command. Don’t be guilty about it. Remember the Lord sleeping soundly in the boat while they are tossed about by strong winds and waves. A restful nap is truly nurturing.

If I could I would love to make regular walks around our village. I would choose the back streets parallel to the creek. Maybe I would do that in the afternoons before the sun goes down. In my mind, I know how refreshing daily walks could be as my spirit relishes nature around me. Soon, I hope and pray.

Mental and Emotional Nurturing

For the sick and suffering, peace of mind and heart is hard to come by. That is why I strongly believe that mental and emotional health is tied up with our spiritual state. If our spiritual life is in the pink of health, mental and emotional soundness follows. Let our minds dwell on warm, loving thoughts — God’s Word brings them out — and not on fears, guilt, or self-condemnation. The beautiful words of Philippians 4: 8 begin with Whatever things are true…meditate on these things. Whatever the Word tells us about who we are in Christ, that is truth. It is only in the atmosphere of the Savior’s love and joy that nurturing occurs deep within us.

I have found the value of simply playing with the kids. We tell silly stories and jokes and we laugh freely. I believe it is in that place, delightfully wedged between the love and giggles and chatter that even my 48-year-old heart blooms. Don’t try to eschew the fun times you can spend with the kids, thinking that you have better things to do. Didn’t the Lord say, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mat. 18:3)?

Reading, writing, and now, watercolor painting, are a few of the many gifts I’m grateful for everyday. These activities are therapeutic. Nurturing.

I love gardening. If I could only go out there and turn up dirt, deadhead, water, apply fertilizer — just touching and caring for those living things in the plant kingdom — it would be like a slice of heaven. But I can’t, so I drew up a plan like a good landscaping artist does. The old garden clutter was replaced with slate and pebble paths and a zen water feature in a corner. There’s still lots to be done, but gardening, like life, is a process, not a one-time affair.

A library and a garden are havens for the soul, don’t you think so?

Spiritual Nurturing

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know that essays that point to spiritual nurturing are all I write about. Praise, prayer, the Word — you know the drill. But I counsel you to pray beyond the rote kind of prayer. Drench your life with prayer. You can never overpray. When suddenly at dawn you awake, there must be a reason. Sing praises to God in your heart. And pray your special petitions. You can go back to sleep afterwards.

In the mornings, before you latch your mind to your plans and open your gadgets, spend time with God until you feel full and have received the blessing to face the day. Nurturing our souls first and foremost is what equips us for life’s daily battles. When we are steeped with faith, fear is far away. Fear shrinks our spirits while the steadfast love of our Savior makes us grow and flourish. So, be a branch that is firmly attached to the Vine.

(All definitions from thefreedictionary.com; photo courtesy of Perla Frisberg).

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New Mercies

New mercies. New precious lessons that will last throughout eternity.

I thought that during the long years of my trials through sickness and suffering, I had learned most of life’s lessons, that is, the hard and deep ones, really important ones, that I needed for my faith journey. I thought that I had somehow passed them and was already sailing farther towards the open seas, bluer oceans, and deeper waters. But I was wrong. In this current season of harder and more painful trials through same physical afflictions, I’m realizing that I had barely scratched the surface when it came to a completely surrendered holy life in the Lord.

Not that those years wrought with painstaking learning had been in vain, but that fresh grace and wisdom are showing me that there is more to consecrated, faith-filled life than what I was already living. Apostle Paul called it mastery.

And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. (1 Cor. 9:25)

Faith and Prayer Life

In the past years, I did trust God in everything in my life but I’m realizing now that there had been more fear than faith. That I had let fear operate in my life and let it call the shots. That although I thought I was trusting God completely, there were many occasions where I lacked confidence in Him, where I let trepidation reign in my heart for days, weeks, and months while I waited for God’s answer to my prayer.

I thought I had been praying enough everyday, but now that I am doing relentless, importunate, hounding-God kind of prayers with sturdier confidence that comes from knowing Him more intimately through the Word – I am experiencing more victories and a steady flow of peace.

I am combining the power of the Word, which I continue to read, ponder on, and memorize by heart, and steadfast and deeper faith to lift up prayers that are not punctuated with worry but with peace and confidence. I am learning now more than ever to unclutter my mind with all things that contradict or weaken faith and rest in the truth that God is sovereign.

When the Lord leads us to deeper, bluer waters, He will also grow our faith proportionately. Deeper waters call for deeper spiritual maturity.

Marriage and Other Relationships

One other thing I’m currently learning is to intentionally love, appreciate, and honor my husband despite his own share of faults and failings. To do that I must learn to acquiesce, submit if you will, to his decisions that I know will turn out for our good in the long run without feeling resentful. Most of the time in the past, those frantic responses that resisted my husband’s leadership and decisions had emanated from a place of fear: of unconsciously insisting to take control of things and wanting to stay safe within my comfort zone.

But with spiritual maturity comes also the realization that faith, sturdy faith in God, is active and not passive. Faith is taking courage, stepping out, and trusting God will come through for us.

In the past, my acquiescence to my husband was mostly triggered by my fear of offending God and my illness worsening in the process, not from gladness in relinquishing control and humble submission. Hence, there had been much misery, resentment, and self-pity on my part. I’m learning that it is far more excellent to show humility that flows from a pure, surrendered heart.

Mostly, the important lesson I’m relearning at present is to relinquish control, trust God, and live my days choosing joy. Surrender is a token of trust.

Although there is always that desire to be in control of one’s circumstances, if you’re sick and weak, frustration is what you’ll end up with, because in reality, you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope up with all the happenings around you. But that is exactly what the Lord wants to fix: our being weighed down by our burdens. He wants us to:

Come to Him.

Lay down our burdens.

Learn from Him for He is gentle.

His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

He will give us rest.

It is hard to live with sickness and suffering and physical weakness. But opening my heart, mind, and soul wide to God’s love and provision is freeing and invigorating.

With sickness and suffering, it is easy to dwell on negative things – impatience, grumbling, unkindness and unloving ways which find their roots in bitterness – and be wearied by them. But that is not the path God wants us to take. With our trials, He is actually sanctifying us to live victorious, holy lives. As we find rest in Him.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience [steadfastness]. But let patience [steadfastness] have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4, annotations mine)

Whether we like it or not, it is under the atmosphere of trials that we truly learn.

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My Source of Strength

My source of strength is Christ and His Word. Christ and His Word are one.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The King of kings and Lord of lords who came to dwell among us and died for our sins is called the Word of God (see Rev. 19:13). No wonder the author of Hebrews wrote:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and ofmarrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)

The Word of God is living and powerful.

You may have heard and read that countless times it has lost its effect in you. But that is very wrong.

God’s Word is light, strength, and life. And because it is living, it does. It acts. It moves. Because of the Word, God is not a distant, unapproachable God. We can know Him intimately through His Word, as intimate as it can ever be, like His very life courses through our veins. We are the branch, He is the Vine. We live in the Vine, being nourished by it every single day. And the deeper we are rooted in Him, the deeper we’ll know Him, the more our faith is strengthened, and the more we become bold and courageous to face the future, although now we may be in a difficult place. But we can see past all that, because we trust in the Word – God’s promises – and we hold onto each one.

My love story with the Word began when one of the beautiful children of our beloved pastor counselled me when I was still a baby in Christ: “Immerse yourself in the Word of God”. She spoke the words with so much intensity that I nodded vigorously and resolved to immerse myself in the Word beginning that day.

There were months when I was very sick and weak that I couldn’t hold my large KJV Bible let alone read it, so I would ask one of the house helps to read for me. If they read only in Tagalog, I asked for a Tagalog Bible and it was fine with me. By reading to me everyday, one of them fell in love with the Word, too, that she asked for her own copy of the Bible and read late into the night. Later on, that nanny received the Lord Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior and was baptized in water in His name

I’ve been ill for almost 12 years now and long seasons of intense sickness and suffering had come and gone. During a particularly hard year, I discovered audiobible. And it was heaven! I would listen to chapter upon chapter, even whole books, until I would fall asleep.

Then there came a time just recently, in one of those hard seasons, that even listening made my heartbeat erratic and my breathing more labored. So, it became both hard to read and listen. It had come to that. Singing audibly was the very first one to go. So, I couldn’t count on that, either. But I could still pray. I prayed God’s Word. I declared them powerfully in my heart.

 A few months ago, I uploaded an ESV Bible to my Kindle. I thought reading on Kindle would be a lot easier for me. And the Lord met me where I stepped out in faith. I could again feast on His Word using Kindle. Then, I became bolder and more inspired that I ordered an ESV journaling Bible. Immerse in the Word, remember? I was excited to start using it, but to my great dismay, the words are so tiny I could hardly read them. Hannah helped out and put a magnifier app in my cellphone. Now, I’m reading my journaling Bible like focusing a laser on the words I love. That’s what I call relentless. All by His grace.

I pour out all my faith onto the Word like a drink offering. If it wasn’t for it, I would have succumbed to my body’s trembling in sickness and fear and shrunk into something that is uglier than death itself. I would have whittled away like a useless driftwood that could only be used for kindling.

But it’s the Word that nourishes me, gives strength to my flesh and bones and heart, sees me through every difficult day, and adds to my life. I declare the powerful words over my life throughout the day, especially during physical struggles, like an IV of a potent medicine, a lifeline, a supply of oxygen.

It should work. It shouldn’t fail – that cannot happen. God’s Word cannot be rendered powerless or impotent when applied with full faith.

At the factory Corrie Ten Boom was assigned in after she and her father and sister were arrested by the Nazis for hiding Jews during the Holocaust, she was asked if she needed personal care items like toothbrush and soap. She didn’t have them but she asked instead for a copy of the New Testament. She knew she could survive without a soap or a toothbrush, but she couldn’t possibly live through the horrors of her captivity without God’s Word. After a few days, she received a pocket-sized New Testament Bible, a toothbrush and a soap*.

*From her book Hiding Place.

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God Surrounds His People

Meditating on Psalm 125.

Those who trust in the Lord
Are like Mount Zion,
Which cannot be moved, but abides forever. (Ps. 125:1)

In September last year, at the outbreak of war in Zamboanga, the beloved brethren in our Church’s outreach there determined to continue holding worship services. But the war intensified and lengthened. The rebels, desperate, held whole houses and a mosque hostage and put establishments on fire. At this time, the beloved brethren who gathered in church (where the pastoral house is also located) which was at the heart of the city could no longer go out. Their supplies were running out and they were also beginning to be terrified by the interminable bombings and firings from both the military and the Muslim rebels.

Most of the establishments, including other Christian churches, had closed shop and the people had long left the city. The beloved JMCIM brethren realized that they were the only ones left in the war zone, except for those taken hostage. But they continued to praise, pray, and worship in faith, trusting God to protect them. They contacted the main church in Quezon City and informed them of their predicament. They were advised to stay put: they were safe in the house of God; He would deliver them. Miraculously, supplies from the central church began to reach them.

When either the military or rebels (it was difficult to distinguish which) passed by the church and saw the worshiping brethren, they nodded or waved silently. They wouldn’t dare harm the faithful people of God!

2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
So the Lord surrounds His people
From this time forth and forever. (v. 2)

The Lord surrounds His people! 

Sometimes, we grow faint in our faith and render God as powerless to deliver us from whatever is holding us captive or whatever is threatening our lives. But God doesn’t change. He wrought miracles in the days of the great prophets of the Old Testament and He is still working miracles to this day. Because he is unchanging!

There is a need for our faith to be revived, to be put on fire and believe and trust that our God is still all-powerful and almighty. There is a need to put life into our faith for us to see God’s miracles once again. He will work wonders through His Spirit who dwells in His redeemed. The Lord is looking for that kind of faith to move Him.

I pray that this new year, we will work more diligently on growing our faith: knowing the Lord more and deeper – more of Him in prayer and worship and through His Word – and following His will more fervently.

Our motto?

Less of the world; more of Jesus.

He will do good to us. Believe and trust.

Do good, O Lord, to those who are good,
And to those who are upright in their hearts. (v. 4)

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A Place to Hide

When I see the photo of the Philippine flag tattered but still flying, I can’t help but bite my lip and try not to succumb to weeping. Our tattered flag symbolizes a country and a people broken and battered by the continuous onslaught of evil: corruption, war in Mindanao, insurrection, floods, earthquake, and just recently, super typhoon that took lives and property, and maybe, even hope to some. With these sentiments and tears, I begin my post today.

There were news that, after Typhoon Haiyan devastated our country, a big and famous church refused to receive townsfolk seeking refuge to their sturdy building in the heart of Tacloban, Leyte, the hardest hit province, while the typhoon raged. Those people were desperate and ran to that church’s edifice, hoping that they would be received and find safety there. But they were cruelly turned away because they were not members of that church.

This is a homegrown and second largest church in the Philippines next to the Roman Catholic Church. They are called Iglesia ni Cristo (translated: Church of Christ), but most people call them by the name of the founder, Iglesia ni Manalo, which is just as well since it appears that they don’t have the right to carry the name of the Savior. Would the Lord Jesus Christ turn away anyone? They may boast of their sturdy edifices, their churches’ buildings high spires proudly reaching to the clouds, but if the Lord doesn’t dwell there, what good does it do? Absolutely nothing!

In 2006 when our family traveled to nearby provinces to attend crusades of our Church, I had observed this one thing: most, if not all, of our Church’s outreach stations’ buildings are not made of a sturdy foundation. I was barely three years old in the Lord and still had that worldly thinking in me. I was ashamed to feel dismayed seeing the unattractive and seemingly weak structures that composed the outreaches’ buildings. I was still in the worldly mode thinking that a church building should look magnificent. Our main church regularly holds worship service in a stadium which is not at all unusual for huge congregations.

But our Church’s outreach stations’ buildings symbolize the poverty and humility of Christ when He walked on earth. Not that they would rather keep it that way, but, in the provinces where life is hard, the Gospel is brought to the poor and the needy. They may be poor materially (some outreach stations have curtains for walls), but they are rich in faith. And I might have forgotten where the Lord delivered His sermons: on a hill, on the mount, on a boat, at the seaside, in someone’s house. Our outreaches’ buildings may be weak but our Church’s foundation is the Lord Jesus Christ.

News reached us that in one outreach station that was directly along the path of the super typhoon, when the outreach building was wiped out, the beloved brethren in Christ tried to flee but couldn’t stand up to the force of the howling winds and lashing rain, so they just lay flat on the ground in a vacant lot, their faces kissing the wet earth. They yielded their bodies to the mercy and protection of the Lord God Almighty.

(image source)

Where do you go when there is nowhere to hide? Where do you run to? For even the designated evacuation centers were swallowed up by the storm surge and the people who sought refuge there perished. Where do you go when there is no safe place to be? For even the mansion-like houses of Tacloban were not spared by the fierceness of wind and water.

This was what our family talked about after our nightly devotion around our table. I said, “The safest place to be is in the Lord Jesus Christ.” When buildings fail to harbor us, there is a cleft in the Rock where we are always safe. We are safe in the hand of the Savior.

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. (John 10:28)

Psalm 91 was given to us so we will know who holds, covers, and protects us.

He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;

You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.

Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place,
No evil shall befall you… (Ps. 91: 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, emphasis added)

And yes, He is able to deliver from any and all harm. Even from super typhoons. Our brethren in Visayas are all safe. Hallelujah!

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My Help Comes from the Lord

Meditating on Psalm 121.

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
8 The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

So, we come to one of my most-loved psalms – the beautiful prayer that is Psalm 121. I just had to put it in its entirety so you will be blessed reading it. I looove singing Psalm 121. Did you know that someone put a beautiful melody to it without changing or leaving out any of the words (KJV)? It’s a beautiful, beautiful song! I specially prefer the solemn version. I sing it in my private worship; I sing it in my heart when anxieties come to visit; I sing it for my family when they are away and I start to worry.

When my dear old friend’s husband died leaving her and their four young children, I didn’t know how to comfort her (I think you really don’t know how; it’s all God’s grace). But, I found myself writing the whole Psalm 121 on the blank page of a new Bible and putting it in a gift bag. And that was what I brought her: a new Bible with Psalm 121 written on the front blank page as my dedication. It was, and still is, my heartfelt prayer for her and her kids.

When I pray Psalm 121 over a loved one or a dear friend, I can’t help but feel the stirrings of the Holy Spirit and tears pool in my eyes. It’s just full of selfless love and blessings for the recipient.

But Psalm 121 is a prayer for you and me, too. It was lovingly written by the psalmist for the beloved Bride of Christ. When I sing it, even silently, I am honoring and putting my whole trust in the God who made heaven and earth, and I am strengthened. Every single verse of it makes me feel that I am loved immensely by my heavenly Father and Savior. Indeed, Psalm 121 is an expression of God’s great love for His children.

(Image taken from here; edited by ourhealingmoments.com. It’s a photo of Philippines’ Chocolate Hills in Bohol).

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