Be Strong and Courageous

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

My daisy meadow from last year.

My daisy meadow from last year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esther

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

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

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

Ruth

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

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

And having done all, to stand.

Rahab

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

But having done all, to stand.

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

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

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A Life of Gratefulness

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

gratefulness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I feel You to the left and right

So close and yet just out of sight

I search where promises are kept.

I know You’re real

And somehow still

You’re watching over me

And You will always be until heaven

Brings me home to You

I’ll remember You will always be here

In my heart.

I ache inside but journey on

What is this desperate dream I chase

The distance cruel but yearning grows…

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

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

And ended with —

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

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

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

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

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

I have a healthy, active son.

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

He believes in wonders.

He is inventive.

He is a joy to me.

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

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

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Of God’s Love and Warmth and Fuzzy Blankets

Over the many years of being sick with constant suffering, I found out that one of the hardest things to do is to rest and sleep without being hounded by fears, to trust that when I lay down my weak and ailing body on the bed, nothing bad will happen or that the discomforts will not get worse or the suffering intensify. You would want that your bed would be a haven, a welcome respite from all the hardships. But for me, it hasn’t always been that way. There were months over the course of my illness that I had feared my bed, that it had been a hostile place to be rather than a place of rest and recovery. And so, I had tried other rooms in our home, including the dining room and the garage (inside the Astrovan) to try to find that place where my body could find healing and rest.

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My lilac from last year, recycled for my blog theme. I haven’t found time to paint lately. But by God’s grace, I’ll be starting a new rose bush project one of these days since I had sold 5 of my original, really serious paintings. Praise the Lord!

I thank my dearest Lord Jesus that with the partial healing and recovery that I have received, those fears and anxieties fled, too. I don’t fear my bed and our room anymore. No matter how hard the suffering still is sometimes, I have learned to keep still in my bed and trust that God will all be God for me: my Savior, Deliverer, Healer, Comforter, Protector, Shepherd. And remember that though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for He is with me.

I have learned to really rest in the Lord. Doing that is really trusting Him to the uttermost, truly believing that He is mighty to save, yes, to save from the attacks of the enemy the devil. Trusting that my times are in His hand and He will fulfil the number of my days, that He will make my healing spring forth speedily and with long life He will satisfy me. Remembering that with my faith without doubts, he can and will perform miracles. And these words of His, His powerful promises, they are real and they are life.

With the healing of both my spirit (from the terrible bundle I used to write about) and body (partial) came also the sweetness of yielding my sick and tired body to the comfort of my bed, the softness of my pillows and the warmth of my blankets. I use throws during the day, two are tapestries (one of them with the names and titles of God from A to Z) and one is soft and furry. Before, they only served to make my body warm and bring it comfort. But lately, they have evolved into being a warm invitation to rest, to snuggle in, and yes, to even feel the sweetness of my Lord Jesus in them, believing and feeling that He is embracing me and loving on me through them. To be able to relish that sweetness and comfort – I am truly grateful.

I think this desire to find rest between the sheets began after watching a Hallmark Christmas movie. It was about a little girl sick of cancer who was very brave all throughout her illness and taxing treatments. One day after coming from the hospital, her mother brought her to her room, a pretty attic room with floral wallpaper and dormer windows overlooking the trees in the yard. Her bed was covered with a beautiful quilt, looking like every piece and thread was meticulously sewn in love. And on this quilt, the girl laid down her tired body with a smile on her lips, curled up on her side, and acquiesced to a much-needed rest and sleep.

I have always thought about that. It was only a movie but it spoke to my heart. The trust. The sweetness. The hope that everything will be alright. For our Lord Jesus promised to make all things new. And that He is with us always.

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12 Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

(Ps. 139:7-12, 17-18)

I don’t have a quilt that is lovingly pieced up and sewn, but I do have a Laura Ashley quilt cover that is strewn with rose bouquets and vines. By its loveliness I feel God’s love reaching out to me, that I am completely known, loved, and cherished. I know that it’s just a quilt, but if our hearts are full of gratitude, even that is a beautiful gift for our bodies to rest on.

I also stopped using woven blankets that are rather stiff and rough and itchy to my skin which add to my discomforts. Something whispered to my ear that flannel blankets would be a comfort. And so, I began using flannel blankets, soft and fluffy like clouds :). In all these, though just simple things and not the miraculous kind, I find rest for my body, mind, and heart. While I wait for sleep at night wrapped in fuzzy warmth, I think about the Lord Jesus’ tender mercies and compassions that never fail. They feel like a warm embrace.

These feelings and thoughts, they are gifts. They are vital to the faith and hope that I hold fast in my heart.

(I have been purchasing Laura Ashley beddings from Amazon at about half the price. I also get new, branded flannel blankets from local IG sellers at thrift prices, the likes of Valentino, Royal Copenhagen, Nina Ricci, and many others. The thrift price I’m talking about is of the $5-$20 range. Overall, I consider the comfort, joy, inspiration, and beauty all gifts from a loving, generous, blessing God! My heart is full and I am overwhelmed with gratitude).

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All That We Ever Need

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Him we are complete. Whole.

Psalm 23 says it all.

Psalm 23

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

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God’s Comfort and Strength

A poem for the sorrowing soul.

 

God’s Comfort and Strength

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Joy is great

But sorrow pushes deeper

Into God’s bosom

A gateway to grace.

 

Sorrow is a shadow

That walks with one

And urges on toward

The Lord’s waiting arms.

 

Sorrow works repentance

Humbling down and tears

And plunging oneself

At Jesus’ feet.

 

My deepest need

For comfort and strength

Stokes the fire within

Makes love burn afresh.

 

Sorrow colors

My praise and worship

Drives me to touch

All heaven’s gates.

 

I’m like a bird

That hovers over

Sorrow’s sea

Not wanting to land

For I am weak, you see.

 

But God whispers

“My strength

Is made perfect

In your weakness

So, lean closer

And trust deeper

I am your rest.”

 

Is it even possible

To just fly away

Under the shadow

Of God’s wings

Where I hide myself

And pain can never reach?

 

I cry out

For the Savior’s light

For in Him darkness

Cannot ever abide.

 

And so He makes me

Afloat in His mercy

And in the power

Of His great love.

 

God’s love never fails

Never wanes, never leaves

Never dries up

Like a river it flows

Untiring, unending

Its healing power

Alive, ever moving

Both now and forever.

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

 

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The Inward Life

I pull my blankets to my neck to settle in bed after a tiring day (well, my days are always taxing on my body whether I work or rest, because of my illness). It is during these moments of quiet, when the kids have gone to bed and Felix is in the other room praising, that my mind is wont to reflect on the day’s events, not so much on the activities, but more on how I have handled every situation and how I have spent every moment.

Have I been a light to my family? Have I set a good example to an erring child? Have I ministered grace with my words? Have I been patient, gentle, kind? Have I meditated enough on the Lord through the hours? Have I shown fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit? And then there is the inevitable recalling of the day’s blunders and failures. Sometimes it seems that the days are just full of them and I have this practice of taking all the burden and the blame. And feeling guilty when I had enjoyed minding material things, like home decor (planning, browsing, purchasing), etc.

My painting is buried under the huge petals of the lilies, but... you get the message :) .

My painting is buried under the huge petals of the lilies, but… you get the message :) .

But as I pull the blankets over me to rest under their warmth, a voice within me speaks, “Aren’t you being too hard on yourself?” Then it makes me recall all my daily hardships – the sufferings, the inabilities, the sadness and desolation of not being able to go out. It makes me think of my difficult situation, of how hard and lamentable it truly is that sometimes I wail before Felix, the tears hot, fat, and eager to fall. But I have learned to ease away all of my suffering from my heart and mind and let gratitude reign there instead.

Worship. Gratitude. Contrite heart. These are the things that I want to color my moments and days with.

But the voice within me tells me to see things in the right perspective and receive, enjoy, and live with God’s gifts and abundant blessings without guilt or remorse or sadness.

I answer back in my mind that I never wanted to pamper myself with worldly things, to let them take the place of bodily healing, relief, and comfort. To take the place of joy in being able to walk, do the things I want to do. Or the joy of travel and whatever things I can’t do now but longing to do.

And the inner voice replies, “They are never meant to replace them, for they can’t. But you can take them with thanksgiving and praise and turn them into something that will bring God glory. Yes, whether you’re decorating your home and making your surroundings beautiful for you to enjoy and feel happy with, or whatever you do, do it with Him and rejoice together with Him. For everything that you receive comes from His giving hand.

“Thank Him for every single thing received and share with Him your joy, your happiness. He is the heart of your every endeavor, every task, every little thing that matters to you. He is the heart of your praise and worship. Put Him into everything you put your heart into.

“Offer to Him the work of Your hand, whether a needlework, a painting, an essay, a poem, a song, a letter, words on the pages of a journal, a Bible study with someone, fresh flowers arranged in a vase, bread baked to golden perfection, lighted candle whose scent and golden warmth waft gently around the room. Whether you’re harvesting fruits and planning to send a basket to a dear friend, or marvelling at the vibrant color of a splash of paint on a canvas, or being touched by the story of the book you’re reading, or admiring the deep colors of the stones of a vintage brooch and thinking how it would make your mother happy receiving it – offer it all to Him. That pure joy in your heart, He was the One who gave it. Don’t sully it with endless analyses and guilty thoughts and feelings. Joy with Him.

“It is the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” (See 1 Tim. 6:16-17)

He gives richly all things for us to enjoy. Then we must receive them with thanksgiving and praise. And share and make others happy, too.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

I just realized it now that my heart and soul have slowly adapted to their environment. The environment of only our home. In the recent past, I had endlessly daydreamed, longed, and ached for the outdoors: for travel, for the beach, the woods, the plains, the farm, the earth beneath and the vast sky above without obstruction, but often, I had been left hungering more and longing deeper, like the burning pain of an empty stomach. Since it’s painful to dwell on them, my heart and soul have learned to not even venture toward that place of hunger and longing. To not think about those things and places that are so very afar of, so far from my reach. 

Not that I have given up on them, but that I have given up dwelling on them and without me realizing it, I have slowly gravitated inwardly, to our home which is the only world I know now. And if the Lord is speaking to my heart to make my little world beautiful and a source of peace and quiet, fulfilment and happiness, then I will be glad to do it for the praise and glory of His name.

I believe that gardening, home decorating, and other such satisfying undertaking, can be a food for the soul and can very well be a channel for healing.

To have something to look forward to each morning, to be inspired to rise up and praise God for the gifts we are sure to find and enjoy, is far, far better than to anticipate the breaking of dawn with trepidation. For there had been months years ago when sickness didn’t allow inspiration to touch my heart, when all I could do was stare at the wallpaper and count the flowers printed there or gaze out the window and watch the duplex being built, one rivet at a time.

But now, the Lord is filling me with vibrant inspiration. I am filled with eagerness to face each new day. All these – the heart for beauty, the inspiration, the giddy anticipation, and the joy they bring – they are gifts from the ever-giving God.

At the end of the day, when inspiration begins to ebb, I commune with God through prayers, His Word, within the pages of my prayer journal, and through praise music. I cry for His majesty that shines on me and for all the frustrations and all the unrealized dreams. I cry for the ugly, the mistakes, and the beauty that peeks through amazing grace. I cry for this grace that never wanes.

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Putting Meaning and Purpose Into (Hard) Life

The theme for Hannah’s Junior High Dance this year is 90s fashion. I thought that it would be easier to just buy fabric and send it to our dressmaker rather than browsing online or sending the husband and daughter to look for 90s cocktail dress in the malls. I graduated from college at the turn of the 90s decade and wore a very shiny black and silver dress with puffy sleeves. My mother borrowed it from our neighbor whose daughter then worked in Japan as an entertainer. But then, Hannah’s dress requirements excluded dark colors and only allowed pastel ones. Since my daughter is endowed with the Filipino brown skin like a perfectly toasted bread (well, not quite), we had limited choices. We settled for a very light peach satin fabric which Felix bought at our favorite shop, Carolina’s House of Lace.

I used metallic gold and other metallic paints in painting this rose.

I used metallic gold and other metallic paints in painting this rose.

It’s also a good thing that Hannah’s school, although one of the few fine international schools in the country, is a school that doesn’t promote luxury or sexy dresses for its students, two things that we ourselves avoid like the plague, being Christians. Also, in keeping with a modest and simple Christian life, it is already a given that I will not commission an expensive fashion designer, or dressmaker for that matter, to make my daughter’s dress. So, as usual, the fabric was sent to a sister in Christ who also happens to be a humble dressmaker.

When the dress was finished though, it looked too simple and unattractive. It was just plain peach all over, like pale lips. Even Hannah, whose taste is really simple and who doesn’t have a fashionista bone in her body, found it plain and boring. But rather than toss it away and buy one from the mall, I thought of ways of embellishing it. At dawn the next day, I had my solution. Before the day ended, Felix had gone back to Carolina’s to buy a lovely appliqué. And because it was my idea and there was no other who could do it, I took in the task of laborious needlework.

Now you have to understand that my illness makes me constantly dizzy and there are times it’s hard to focus. I also have overall body weakness. My legs, arms, and hands are not strong, so much so that I cannot carry more than a glass of water (and that with both hands) or cannot clip my own nails.

For days I labored with the needlework of Hannah’s dress, sewing the appliqué into the sleeves cascading down beyond the waist. Every leaf and vine and around every petal. One time I got so tired that I went through a suffering bout once again. But when I had recovered, I went back to it again, like a soldier that waxes bold with every wound sustained.

Felix warned me of exhausting myself and suffering in the process, but I told him that I wanted to do it. I needed to do it. With my ailing life, I cannot do things that most mothers normally do. In fact, as a sick person who lives on this earth, there are so many things that I am unable to do. My life is not normal. And because of that, I want that the little things that I could actually do, I would do it with my whole heart, even when it involves sacrifice. Maybe especially so. Then that would be more meaningful.

I told Felix, with a crack in my voice, that I want to perform my role as a wife, a mother, and a Christ follower to the best of my limited ability and strength and lots of God’s grace. It is only through it that my life, no matter how hard and limited and not normal, finds purpose and meaning.

Two posts ago, I wrote about life’s ultimate purpose and meaning, and that is knowing, receiving, and living in God’s love and being one with Him in spirit. But that truth needs to be translated into daily life. How does it look like woven into the individual threads of our ordinary moments and days?

When I was well and strong many years ago, finding purpose and meaning to life was easy. I embarked on a career that was my life’s dream and put up my own company. To the strong, valiant and meaningful pursuits are all possible. But not to the weak. The physically weak. Like me.

I have read many of Ms. Joni Eareckson Tada’s books especially her autobiographies and had frequently visited her website and I have observed that she has accomplished so much, maybe more than a strong and healthy person could ever have. And for me, that’s not too hard to analyze. Although she doesn’t mention it in any of her books, I understand her need to find meaning, purpose, and fulfilment in her life. I understand that very much. When one is an A-1 person, the desire and need to make one’s life meaningful, one that leaves a mark, are great.

Joni is an A-1 person and she is also a quad. But she worked so very hard to put meaning and purpose to her life. Never mind that she’s a famous Christian author, founder and CEO of her organization, Joni and Friends, and an accomplished artist (she paints holding the brush between her teeth). But she also does gardening (I imagine she supervises the gardener) and many other pursuits.

It’s the same with me. No, I’m not following Joni’s footsteps (or wheelchair marks). I also want to pour meaning and purpose into my life even if I am homebound. I didn’t plan in writing two books and blogging, or learning to paint with watercolors, or learning to bake. I just followed my heart and ended up there. Then I realized that, yes, maybe that’s the heart of the weak and disabled: they want their life to matter in spite of.

So, they work harder than the strong no matter how hard it is.

When I was in high school, I had a favorite quotation and it somehow guided me through college and beyond.

“The secret of life is not just to live, but to have something worthwhile to live for”.

(I’m sorry but I have forgotten the source).

We live for God. But that is translated into countless, manifold ways. We may do it through our roles as mother, wife, friend, writer/blogger, artist, sister, daughter, neighbor, employer, co-worker, and so on. Whatever role we play, we want it to be meaningful and with purpose. Especially – eternal purpose.

Hannah's dress and the appliqué I sewed onto it.

Hannah’s dress and the appliqué I sewed onto it.

By the time I finished Hannah’s dress, I couldn’t lift my left arm. It was limp and shaking from its socket. Sacrifices. Maybe they bring the best meaning to life.

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Home 2

Home is where I’ve been and where I am at these many years. To be always home and unable to go anywhere else is not so bad, if you learn to accept the things that you don’t have the power to change. The secret is to learn to settle down and still be able to see the good things God is doing. Even in your small, limited world. Even in a few thousands square foot of ground.

home 2

When you’re unable to go anywhere else, you’ll be glad there is home. There is always home. The prodigal son learned this the painful way. And yet, home is where he found himself again.

We recently painted the outside walls with the faintest beige, almost an eggshell white when the sun shines on it, and the ironworks with warm sepia (well, that’s what I want to call it because it’s one of my favorite colors in my watercolor palette). When Felix brought home a color chart from the paint manufacturer, all three of us (me and the two kids) got so excited we each chose a color for our own bedrooms. Tim chose baby blue for his, telling us that the cream paint is already stained and that he wanted blue so much anyway and begged, “Please, please, please!” while jumping up and down with excitement. The daddy was silent for a while for he only planned to have the outside walls painted.

But then I ohhed and ahhed at the delicate Wisteria color, almost ethereal in my eyes, and I asked the husband, “Wouldn’t that be lovely for our room?” (Hannah wasn’t about to be left behind. She chose a very faint mint it almost looks like mist).

My poor husband was overpowered and ended up hiring four painters and bringing home gallons upon gallons of paint the colors of cotton candy (for the inside walls, that is, living, dining, and up to the family room, were painted light peach).

For a few weeks now, I stare at the blank Wisteria walls. The frames had not been re-hung for I gave instructions that the holes where thick nails had been bored be covered without any trace. They are now a blank canvas waiting to be adorned. I dream to paint wisteria on 12″ x 16″ watercolor paper, soon I hope, when I’m stronger (and feeling more confident).

In the late afternoons, when the sun is on the other side of the house and not peeking through the windows, the wisteria walls turn into a grey-lavenderish hue, like a smoke passing through.

I look, I observe, I hang my head at a certain angle, trying to capture something from the silence or the space that is all around me. My soul is trying to whisper, “God, where are You in all this? Is it only these walls and nothing else or am I too sentimental to think that You are trying to speak to me through these blank, unadorned walls, through these colors that look like vapor to my eyes? Is there something more, beyond what my eyes can see?”

When the only place you know and revolve around is home, bound by walls and mouldings and French windows and doors, you try to pull the Lord by the arm and invite Him in. Lord Jesus, please, come, sit awhile with me.

I admit I strain to make our home beautiful because it is the only place I can be. But I don’t want it to be only about the material things, the things that my eyes and heart can enjoy. I want it to be transformed into something that could reach and touch my soul. I want it to be a haven for my spirit and weak, ailing body. I want it to be a place for healing.

And that’s why I want to see God in all of it.

I had known the pain and desolation of not being able to see Him everywhere I looked, like He wanted to hide Himself from my vision and avoid the path where I had hoped to catch Him. Job had known this, this pain and hopelessness, ages before I had.

“Look, I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him. (Job 23:8-9)

I don’t want to go back to that place. It’s a dismal, scary place to be.

What a big difference seeing Him in all things can do!

As summer comes bursting forth with its blustery heat and warm late-afternoon breezes, I sit in our patio and relish everything our garden offers. At this time of the year, the narra tree boasts of a thick canopy of green leaves and each year, I notice it ever expanding. One branch extends toward the patio roof, the tight  weaving of green kissing it and I can see it peeking through the fiber glass.

God is growing every living thing, adorning the deciduous tree with new coat and crown of leaves when its time comes. He’s ever sustaining, nurturing, giving increase. Even without our striving.

For the first time this year, the mango tree is bearing fruit. One branch is stooping low for heaviness of fruit and I wonder, if one is heavy with fruit, the posture is always bowed down low. I want to be like our mango tree.

It’s a day away from Resurrection Sunday as I write this. Our family did not plan to go anywhere during Lent since I couldn’t go with them anyway and the kids are going back to school afterwards (their school year is patterned to that of the USA). White sand beaches and pine trees-cooled lodges are a distant dream, for it would be too painful dwelling on them.

Felix put a big Intex pool in the garden. He bought it before the malls closed up for the Holy Week. Tim couldn’t contain his excitement. A few hours before midnight on Wednesday, when the kids had gone to bed, he went out and painstakingly set it up, the instruction manual spread out before him. Around 1 in the morning, water was already filling it up. Still, he got up early, when the sun had not yet chased away the indigo-tinted morning. He wanted that the pool was full before Tim saw it. Not an easy task since the pool is quite big, a rectangle of blue sitting audaciously on a swath of green.

Home. Home is where the love of the Father resides. Never waning, never leaving, never failing.

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” (Luke 15:31)

Tim babbles endlessly in the pool for happiness. He’s so excited and happy he won’t stop talking while splashing and swimming. I don’t stop him. I think that if I closed my eyes, it would be the same sound I would hear if we were in the beach or a lodge secluded by evergreens. And all these, every single morsel of it, I gather them like the Israelites of old gathered manna. This here is food for my hungering soul.

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What Makes Life Beautiful?

Because of social media, people can now show off their lives for all the world to see and admire. But a life that is seen through the screen is just a small facet of the whole. The life lived behind it, hidden from the world’s hungry eyes, is what essentially matters. If we live our moments just so we can brag them to the world is not really living. The thing that I’m learning now is to live for my sake and the ones I love, and not for the sake of the world. That is not selfish at all if you will allow me to elucidate. Because of the pull of social media, we have learned to make little decisions that are based not on our own needs and their importance in our lives, but because we think that they will impress the world. 

beautiful life

We can easily see that when, instead of letting the hungry husband dive into the sumptuous dinner before us, for example, he’ll still have to wait because we are going to take pictures first (for IG perhaps!) before the nice arrangement is messed up. Instead of sitting quietly down to dinner, thank the Lord for the good food and ask Him to bless it, then share it with the ones we love gathered around, our thoughts and actions are centered on sharing it first to the world. We make these little decisions for the sake of the world and not for us.

Now, if we fail to show our moments to the world before they come to pass, we feel like there’s something lacking in our lives. But, this shouldn’t be the case. Our lives should be lived to satisfy us and not the world through its “likes and comments”.

Is life beautiful because a photo shared is scooping up “likes” by the hundreds or even thousands? Is that the gauge?

I’m learning, dear readers, I’m learning!

What makes life beautiful? Is it what people see on the outside? Or is it essentially the life on the inside, the one that cannot be seen? The one that is sturdily connected to its Creator and Sustainer and Savior? The one that is whole and full and complete enough in its God it doesn’t need glorying in “likes”? The one that doesn’t need to show off because it is happy and contented in itself?

I am learning hard, yes, on how to live this one life in contentment in God and not in the world. Sometimes, we think that striving to make our lives beautiful for others to admire and emulate is the way to happiness, but I believe that we need to create first a place in our inmost being that is authentically contented, happy, and grateful before it can even be called beautiful. Our lives should deeply satisfy us first before it can attempt to satisfy others. They should be loved, cherished, and made happy first before they can even be useful to others.

I used to think that adorning and surrounding my life with beautiful things – scented candles, pretty English teacups, flowers arranged in a crystal vase, lovely and comfortable bedroom with walls and covers in perfect harmony (you get the picture) – will somehow cover the want in other areas, such as the lack of health and the absence of travel because of it. These things could temporarily bring comfort and joy and even peace, but in no way can they reach that place in the heart and soul where true and enduring happiness and contentment reside, if in the very first place they aren’t there. The true state of the heart, mind, and soul will determine whether the life that they support is beautiful or wanting.

I have to ask this because it is my life right now: Is there beauty at all in suffering? All kinds of suffering for that matter? I believe there is if it brings us to a closer, more intimate walk with our Savior. If it drives us to pursue holiness that is not superficial. Suffering, if seen in the right perspective, is sanctifying. If our suffering ends in our sanctification, then suffering has served its purpose. Now, don’t go gawking at that word: holiness. The truth is, we are called to it. We are called to be saints (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2). We are called to pursue holiness.

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)

A holy life is one that worships God in spirit and in truth, both in the most private place of our lives and in the congregation with other believers.

Shouldn’t a life be established in peace and joy and confidence first in the Lord Jesus Christ before it could even be called beautiful? Shouldn’t a beautiful life begin with a happy and satisfied heart in God first and a spirit that praises and thanks God with its all before it can even be seen and admired by others?

For what is a life if it wallows in its inability to be happy and content in its God who makes all things possible for it? What is a life if it endlessly whines for the lack and cannot see the blessings all around it and rejoice in them and thank God for every single one? What is a life if it cannot see the good?

First, a life must see God, both in the tangible and intangible. Both in the fruit (that we see) and in faith. In the gifts and rewards and in hopes and dreams. A life that sees God in suffering and in victory. In woe and in awe. In fear and in peace. In joy and sadness. A beautiful life is able to balance these and still flourish. And rejoices in the Lord.

A life is beautiful from the inside out when it is drenched in love on both sides: the Lord Jesus’ unfailing, faithful love and our steadfast, growing one. I believe the secret is being truly loving from the depths of our souls. Such love should be reflected in our relationships.

What makes a life beautiful even with all its trials and struggles and suffering? It is that radiance that’s a reflection of God’s glory. It is never easy, I know. For often our lives reflect the suffering or the want. But we need to ask this: Is it about us? Isn’t it about Him working in and through us for His joy, renown, honor and glory? For His kingdom? And yet, it’s also about us as far as He is concerned: the ones He’s known and loved and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (see Eph. 1:4), the blessed recipients of His mercy and grace. For didn’t He give His life to give us ours?

And the life that He gave – it is beautiful.

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Learning to Live the Life We’ve Been Given

I believe that following the Lord Jesus Christ almost always involves a major detour in life. We hear the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts, through the Word, in our prayers, and in worship. And until we surrender to His will, there is a strain that is hard to bear.

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Years ago, although I was still waiting for healing, I didn’t want to completely give up my work in the company that I had established. I was looking forward to the day that I would fully recover and go back to the work I so loved doing. But I could feel the strain my resistance was causing. I wasn’t winning in that regard. Eventually, I relinquished all control of my life and future to God and vowed not to return to my work even when He has healed me. The Lord gave all leadership and management of our cosmetic ingredients company to my mechanical engineer husband. Even he experienced a “culture shock” with the change of his occupation: from engineering and maintenance management of a large food manufacturing company to the Cosmetics Industry. But he willingly and gladly obeyed God’s call. This was the detour of our life.

Since then, we have been learning to live this life the Lord has given us. But more so for me.

In previous posts, I wrote about being healed of all negative, unprofitable emotions (mostly and subconsciously directed towards God) I now call the “horrible bundle”. But it turned out that there are still remnants of them in my heart, this time, the ones that are directed towards others.

I needed to go to the IG page of a “celebrity mom” to get her source of seedlings for our kitchen garden. Back when I still visited her IG regularly, she usually posted photos of them planting and harvesting from their backyard garden. I was hesitant to go back and have a look again since the main reason I stopped visiting was that, my feelings of envy were the more kindled every time I see their photos depicting the full, perfect life.

But I wanted to get their source of seedlings and other gardening materials, so off I went. And again, I couldn’t help but marvel at the wonderful life this family is living: both the parents have exciting, fulfilling careers that bring them to beautiful places from time to time; they run marathons (hence, perfect health and fit bodies); they eat homegrown vegetables; they grow their own vegetables and some fruits; they laugh. They live and flourish. And yes, they are a Christian family.

I marvel each time at how different our lives are.

So, I got my source of seedlings but I also went away pondering deeply. Again. I was careful not to slide back to the “horrible bundle”, but the things I saw made me pause and think: Shall I question God again? No, I don’t even want to go there.

In addition to this, I remembered what Felix told me: a wealthy family from church is going to the spiritual, revival crusade in San Jose, California – everyone down to the grandchildren. We would have loved to go also, but we can’t because I am sick. Has been for the last more than 13 years.

I spent the rest of the day seeking wisdom. If only I were wise enough (a sage perhaps) to live the life I have, maybe I wouldn’t feel like this – was somewhat the theme of my thoughts and feelings through the afternoon. How do you live a life that has an important aspect of it which you hate but can’t do anything about?

How do you live it without trying to compare and not feel envious, dissatisfied, dismayed, discontented? Those latter emotions are brought about by the practice of comparing. Why do I compare? Why can’t I help it? Maybe because I grew up competitive. If you love competition (not athletics for me), comparison is its companion and envy is their begotten child. I hate the whole bunch of them. But I found out that afternoon that I am still their prisoner.

In the evening, I found myself writing feverishly on my prayer journal begging God to liberate me from them. To say that I need His help is an understatement. If I feel vulnerable every time and my peace and contentment are easily shaken and so fragile that they easily dissolve with the things I see, then there is a need for me to learn to live this life God has given me. To learn to live it gladly, contentedly, gratefully, without feeling envious or jealous of others. It would be the biggest challenge in my faith life yet. I desperately want to do that, for to live otherwise is not really living at all. A life that is steeped in envious feelings is a life of misery.

The days that followed saw me studying life and faith and the kingdom of God and how they must be lived in a way that they would bring purpose, meaning, and fulfilment in spite of illness and suffering. This is what I was able to grasp:

This is the life we’re given now. We may dream and hope and pray for a better, brighter future, but our present lives must be lived here, now. And when it is lived, it must not be lived half-heartedly, but with everything we’ve got. We cannot postpone life. We cannot postpone joy to sometime in the future when healing (or answer to fervent prayer) and joy could be had.

For me, that still means deep longings along the journey. Longings to travel with family – to see the beach, to enjoy outdoors life together without sickness. Longings. They are often painful, but I believe that to try to expunge them would be impossible in the first place, so why even try? I am trading the “horrible bundle” with envy, comparison, and competition thrown in, but I am keeping the longings. The longings are what makes me human, alive, with a beating heart. Longings are what brings me to my knees and makes me utter prayers only the Spirit understands.

So, to tackle the gritty part: How do I learn to not compare? Honestly, I do not know yet. But I’ll keep on praying.

After Joni Eareckson Tada had her diving accident which left her a quad, she wrote that to compare her life to others would be an emotional suicide. Perfectly said. So, she learned not to look and compare but to fully depend on Jesus. Easier said than done. I know even for her who has grown to be wise, Christ-wise.

But this is what I will do: To make other people’s beautiful lives inspire and encourage me to do the best I can with what I’ve been given, instead of letting them drive me to envy and self-pity. To remember that a life is most meaningful when lived for God. Faithfully. Everyday.

Let’s then fill our lives and days with things that impact eternity and not the world.

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