The Blessing of Ordinary Days

On a Sunday evening, I open my prayer journal in a sudden need of connecting amid the heaviness of my heart. All day long, suffering has been unrelenting, making me feel battered and spent. And at the end of the day when dusk settles in, darkness seems to settle in my soul as well. So I write. I write of the gloom and hopelessness that threaten to invade my heart and soul, that make one not to know what to do or how to go on. Or how to keep on living in the light. I end my prayer with:

Please help me. Only You can do something for me.

Still not well and strong enough to paint decently :). Dandelions for my blog theme today.

Still not well and strong enough to paint decently :). Dandelions for my blog theme today.

Sometimes, that is all that we can do. Cry for help.

I close my journal with a heavy sigh and turn towards my husband. I tell him about the state of my heart. The fear of losing hope, of losing joy, of losing the light in my eyes and soul and dwelling in darkness. Tears fall. Tim comes near, he hugs and kisses me. He wants to let me know I am loved and cherished and precious. Felix makes light of the situation but Tim rebukes him, “Dad! Don’t make a joke. This is nothing funny!”

The wisdom of a 10-year old boy!

Of course this is nothing funny. But father and son then team up to strengthen the mother. And this mother re-enters the light. I smile through my tears.

The following morning, Felix leaves for the airport. Cosmetics convention in Bangkok, Thailand. I would have loved him to be with us, it’s the kids’ term break anyway. But work.

I am a worrier. I hate that I am but I can’t help it. I have also other afflictions like nervousness and anxiety and panic attacks. These I acquired with my illness. But I fight them all with tons of prayers. I have prayed weeks before Felix would leave for Bangkok. And on the Monday that he leaves, I submerge myself in prayer. The demons of worry and panic attacks cannot get near.

The blessing of ordinary days (ordinary in that they are not days wrought with wonder or leisure or excitement) is to keep still and trust and rest in the Lord.

It is vacation and most people we know are away having a grand time. But the kids and I are holed up at home, barely exchanging a few words.

Melanie, a sister in Christ whose daughter we send to school, comes to assist us and cook our meals. She brings her 6-year old son. He and Tim play. Tim teaches him simple English words. He gives him his old toy.

The blessing of ordinary days is to see God’s care and love through other people.

In the afternoon, we cook pasta and prepare vegetable salad, then I invite the kids around our small mobile table stationed in our bedroom extension. While we divide portions, scoop sauce, and drizzle parmesan, I tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ and His life of modesty and simplicity. Of how He wants us to learn of Him for He is meek and lowly. This in the atmosphere of our not being able to get away and have a marvellous vacation somewhere.

I tell them that maybe the Lord is teaching us (them, especially) to have humble and grateful hearts. I then ask each one what they know of this: to be humble and grateful. I let them see what we do have and be grateful for every one of them.

The blessing of ordinary days is to remember the Lord’s teachings and learn of Him, of tucking Him and His Word into our hearts so that we continue to grow and be fruitful.

The next day (after recovering from a nasty attack of my illness), I watch this short Christian film. It’s a story about a shepherd boy who is partially crippled. He lives alone with his mother. Though his right shoulder and leg hurt constantly, he needs to go to the hills to pasture the sheep that they don’t even own. One night, he encounters the Lord Jesus Himself but he doesn’t know it’s Him. It’s supposed to be “Christmas”, the night the Savior was born 30 years before. They are in the same hill country where the angel announced glad tidings of great joy to the shepherds working the cold night shift. The boy’s father was one of those shepherds.

They start to talk. The boy shares his water and dinner of bread wrapped in cloth, but not the special cake his mother baked for him. Later on when he realizes that the “stranger” is good and kind, he shares the cake also and apologizes for withholding it at first. The Lord touches the boy’s shoulder, takes his crutch (which the boy willingly gives), and walks into the night. Needless to say, the boy is made whole that same hour. He runs home to his mother.

All this time, tears fall down my cheeks. I am awash with fresh downpour of love.

Sometimes, the heart responds and learns more through love than through sermon. Stories of love based on truth. Stories of God’s amazing love to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. 

Herein is love. 

The blessing of ordinary days is to know and receive that love without doubt and questioning. And to love the Lord back just as purely. To love Him even in the hard, in the painful, in the excruciating, without any traces of selfishness or cold-heartedness or silent rage. To look Him in the eye and there’s only tender love and awe and adoration in us.

The blessing of ordinary days is to be able to receive epiphanies, to be able to hear God’s voice and be transformed by it. 

On a Wednesday evening, Felix texts me. Their plane has safely landed in NAIA. I feel so happy and light I could soar! I shout and shout my thanksgiving towards heaven although I’m sure no voice comes out from my lips. I kiss my Bible thinking I’m kissing my Lord and Savior.

The blessing of ordinary days is to be lifted up in this shared love.

Thursday late afternoon, we gather around our dining table. The kids set the table, more sparkling than usual. The side table carries food we ordered especially for this occasion: black seafood paella, lasagna drowning in thick layers of luscious cheese, and red-orange juice.

Before we lift up forks, we lift up our hands and thanksgiving to God. We don’t need special occasion to order food, set the table, and gather around it. When we celebrate God, we can do it any day. Even in ordinary days.

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In His Time

When I saw their picture together – relief, joy, and the dawning of happiness etched on their faces- I cried. I cried in joy and in a sudden gust of hope and inspiration. That kind of hope and inspiration that breaks through the hard, rock-encrusted trial (at least for me). I rejoiced with them in my spirit, not only because I was really happy for them but because their picture is an embodiment of a dream come true. A prayer answered. I rejoiced because God was showing me there is still beauty, hope, and light in this dim, suffering-laden world.

One of my practice paintings 2 years ago. Notice that I still hadn't learned the technique of shadowing between flowers.

One of my practice paintings 2 years ago. Notice that I still hadn’t learned the technique of shadowing between flowers.

Belle came to work for us in 2004. She is my husband’s cousin. She became part nanny and part caregiver. There was a time when she was bathing me: she was bowed down, concentrating on rubbing my feet with the soapy towel. I felt so touched by the sacrifice that I gently touched her head and said, “Someday, the Lord Jesus will bless you and reward your love and sacrifices.”

Not long afterwards, she found work abroad as an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker) with better compensation. When she transferred to Hong Kong, she became a choir member in our church’s outreach station there. Later on, after years of working in Hong Kong and serving the Lord faithfully there, she found her lifetime partner. They came home and got married in Belle’s hometown in the province. It was a simple, yet lovely wedding. Belle was a pretty, radiant bride.

Her husband (also a young OFW) returned to his work in New Zealand while Belle stayed in the province waiting for her petition to follow him. It was quite a long separation and there were a few difficulties in processing her papers. She spent the time cooking and selling meals in front of the school. She was also a faithful companion of my newly-widowed beloved mother-in-law. They attended church together regularly.

But at long last, Belle finally flew to New Zealand and be reunited with her husband. The photo I mentioned above was taken when they met each other at the airport: eyes shining, smiles breaking forth across there faces without reserve.

And I cried. I cried for the sheer joy of dreams fulfilled and lived. Of hardships overcome. Of love triumphing. Of perfect health and new beginnings and bright, shining tomorrows. Yes, I cried and rejoiced even if they weren’t my own. There is hope in the world. There is hope for each one of us who loves the Lord to pieces.

In His time.

In His time, He makes dreams come true. In His time, He heals all our diseases and binds up our wounds. In His time, He makes all things beautiful.

Everything Has Its Time

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born,
    And a time to die;
A time to plant,
    And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
    And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
    And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
    And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
    And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
    And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
    And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
    And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
    And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
    And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
    And a time to speak;
A time to love,
    And a time to hate;
A time of war,
    And a time of peace.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. (Ecc. 3:1-8, 11)

So, hold on to your faith, dear ones. Better things and better days are yet to come. Amen and Amen!

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Faithfulness and Persistence

To the sick and suffering who have been in the same difficult situation for so long a time, these, faith and persistence, could become so shabby, lackluster, that one needs to wipe the dusty surface to have a glimpse of them once again. This could happen when, for years one prays for miraculous healing and it doesn’t come, and instead, there could be more suffering. This doesn’t mean that faithfulness in God is gone for good. No. It’s just that, one’s fervency for that petition so sought for could diminish. Maybe one would still continue praying for it but the “faith that could move mountains” has waned. Importunity (persistence) is also gone.

My painting from last year. I hope you like it.

My painting from last year. I hope you like it.

That is, until one finds oneself in a harder place where there is no other thing to do but find one’s way back to them – faith and persistence – dust them up, polish and let them shine once more. Let them do their work once more.

For you see, even hope could grow faint and wax weak. One could lose one’s tight grip on it and when that happens, one finds oneself despairing once again. To lose hope and courage – it’s scary. But if we revive our faithfulness to God and our persistence in seeking Him and presenting our supplications to Him, there could still be a remnant of strength left in one’s spirit. And with that, hope. For these, faithfulness and hope, they fortify each other. And prayer in faith is the fuel upon which persistence operates.

As I have said, they could become lackluster, especially when, after a very long time of holding onto them, one still has not received answer to a very important prayer. One is still sick and suffering terribly perhaps. But if the going gets tougher and tougher, one knows that these – faith in God and persistence (importunity) – are the only things one can hold onto, that can bring one from this day to the next. That can rekindle hope.

And so, instead of entertaining the budding feelings of discouragement, self-pity, and despair inside (or the temptation to sulk against God), I am brushing up my strong faith in Him and pursuing Him with persistent determination once again.

I am praying this:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Eph. 6:10-11)

I confess, feelings of hopelessness and despair sometimes creep into my heart, but I never – NEVER – let them flourish. However hard sickness and suffering is, I can’t afford to do that. I am a mother. I guess that says it all.

By God’s persistent grace, He revives us every now and then. This is more significant when one finds oneself in the lions’ den or in the fiery furnace heated up seven times than usual.

Do we still have Daniels and Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abednegos abiding deep within us?

Do we still have that faith to face the hungry lions once again and believe – BELIEVE and TRUST – that God will send His angel once again to stop their mouths from devouring us?

Do we still have that faith that the Lord Jesus Christ will walk with us in the midst of the fire and we will walk out of the furnace without being burned?

Why are lions’s dens and fiery furnaces not shut down for good, like closed down factories which churn out obsolete products?

But we know that they will always be around until kingdom come. But the Word of God will remain. THE. WORD. OF. GOD. WILL. REMAIN!

In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Lord Jesus said,

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Mat. 24:35)

And what does His Word say? It is only this:

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior… (Is. 43:1-3)

These are so beautiful promises, but again, I confess: In the thick of sickness and suffering, one may feel like drowning in the deep waters instead of walking on them. One may feel like being melted through the fire.

It is during these times that our faith must not fail. Even for this, we need to ask the Lord Jesus’ help and intercession, remembering His assurance to Apostle Peter as also His assurance to us: “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail” (see Luke 22:32).

In Luke 11 (KJV Bible), the Lord Jesus tells of a story between two friends and how importunity of the one got him what he wanted from the other. The story was a preface to what the Lord really wanted to say: for us to ask, seek, knock.

To be importunate is to be “overly persistent in request or demand”¹. In the story of the two friends, the one being asked didn’t want to be bothered for he and his family were already abed, but because he was his friend and because of his importunity, he rose and gave what his friend needed.

The Lord Jesus is saying that it is the same with our relationship with Him: we are His friends and He encourages us to importune Him, to ask and beg Him urgently, persistently, even troublesomely.

Sometimes we grow weary, yes, but the Holy Spirit leads us back to God’s Word over and over again and to believe and trust in its mighty power to do that which He intended it for.

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is. 55:10-11, emphasis added)

He will send His word and heal (Ps. 107:20). Amen.

¹ Merriam-Webster

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The Lives We Live

I stir in bed. I know it’s nearing noon, I need to rise up, but my body wants to linger a little longer under the warm sheets. I slept at around 4 this morning, all night long my left leg wouldn’t relent. Of all nights! The discomfort in my legs was more intense than usual last night, it felt like it reached to the marrow and it was hard to sleep. The kids left for school without stopping by. Or maybe they did but found me fast asleep at last. I stretch and get ready for my morning devotion, my eyes roaming around the still-dark room (the undrawn drapes block out the sunlight). On my marble painting table sit the two white orchid plants, a huge 50-piece yellow rose bouquet, and a basket of flowers and fruits. They certainly make the room lovely. And although I have not (yet) received the answer to my fervent prayer, looking at the beautiful flowers make me feel blessed.

This was just a very quick dabble as I have been on bedrest for the past 2 days, but I will do better next time. Promise.

This was just a very quick dabble (using up remaining paints on my palette) as I have been on bedrest for the past 2 days, but I will do better next time. Promise.

Yesterday, alone in my room watching the live streaming of our church’s worship service (hubby and the kids attend church; the kids sing in the choir), a courier delivered a pretty basket of fresh flowers (that included dark pink sweet peas) and fruits. While the maid talked to the courier, I was wondering who would be sending a package since I didn’t order anything. When I saw it, then I remembered. The wonder of it all is that, I always manage to forget about these yearly gifts a beautiful and beloved sister in Christ faithfully sends on my birthday for over half a decade now. So, I am always surprised! 😀 And she lives in Kuwait! And we have never met in person.

But she never fails to make me feel loved and blessed no matter how hard I’m going through. Bless her beautiful soul!

Then last night after midnight, Felix left the room and came back carrying two potted blooming white orchids. They are so lovely I almost couldn’t believe they are real. On his second trip to the garage, he came back carrying a huge bouquet of yellow-gold roses.

“Oh, these are so many! What, 36? 48?” I asked, thinking about all the numbers divisible by 12 😀 .

“50, of course!” He answered. Fifty yellow-gold roses for my 50th birthday. Of course!

“Happy birthday, mahal.”

Today, Monday, October 2, is my birthday. Beginning the first day of September, I prayed a special prayer: that I will receive the gift of my healing. But nothing changed, in my life and in my body. Maybe in another day or time, I would have been deeply hurt. Why is the Lord Jesus so quiet in that regard? But not today. Today, I will not dwell on hurts or self-pity or discouragements. Today, I will do my best to celebrate and be happy.

Later in the afternoon when the kids arrived from school, I managed to wash my face and brush my hair for a decent picture-taking. Honestly, I just wanted to sit in front of the camera and let it capture what it could. Let it gather all the stories my face, my body, my head would be telling. I wanted my picture taken to share with friends on FB and IG but I didn’t want to “embellish” a perfectly happy and contented facade I wasn’t feeling or carrying somewhere within me. What I wrote on the caption was this:

Sometimes there are so many things- different stories and themes, reasons and motives, thanksgivings and praise – that one would like to say, but time and space and words may not be adequate, so one would think that it’s better to say nothing at all.

If a picture can tell all the battles won and still fighting
If it can reveal how many walks through the “valley of the shadow of death” there were
Or if it can explain the joy that pierces through like a ray of sunshine slicingthe dark, menacing clouds
If it can express all the melodies and lyrics of a song of praise and thanksgiving ithat have enlivened the soul in spite of
If it can show all at once all the hopes and fears, all the desires, longings and despair, the unwavering faith and sometimes tottering perseverance and courage
Then let it speak and the words need not be written.

But one knows that it cannot.

Screenshot 2017-10-10 16.42.16

My family.

My family.

Screenshot 2017-10-10 16.37.46

I often wonder what my life might be called. A half-life? Thinking that I’m not living on normal health and strength. But even that moniker is not correct. For my strength is not even half the normal. What would a life that operates on a fraction of strength and a slew of indescribable and scary physical hardships that is far removed from the normal order of things be called?

Sometimes it feels like it’s all like a child’s play. The things I strive to do to show the world I am living a wonderful life in spite of – it feels like they are not really real or complete or normal. Like I am an alien  trying to live on earth like any other human does. But I know that mine is entirely different and I feel like an “outsider”. They only see that I am sitting there on a sofa with a smile on my face, sporting a light makeup and wearing new clothes. What they don’t see is the wheelchair that brought me there and how hubby and kids scamper to make me comfortable: electric fan directed towards my face, sandals put on my feet, hair fixed, etc.

Or when I take photos of my “teascape” and share them on IG. They only see the pretty tea set and the inspiring caption, but they don’t see the hands that washed and put them there. The hands that assisted me while I sat and waited. A child’s play.

But my behind-the-scenes role as a wife and a mother is downright real. I pray hard and pound on heaven’s door for my family just like any other healthy Christian mom does. My writing/blogging and watercolor painting life, thank God, is also very real!

I hope that I don’t sound like I’m whining, because honestly I’m not. I’m just trying to share and explain how hard life like mine is. I could use the word “difficult”, but it doesn’t say anything except that it’s difficult. But when I say it’s hard, I may be describing a hard wall, a hard ground, a hard place, a hard situation, a hard hand, a hard deal.

But in the hard, I beg the Lord (just as much as I beg for my healing) for fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit. For what is a life without fruit? In a desolate land, in the wilderness, one could still be fruitful. And maybe even more so. Because in the wilderness, one’s bread is the Word of God. It is the manna that one gathers each day for one’s sustenance and growth.

A fruitful life is the Word of God lived. Each and every day. And that is my light, my encouragement, and my hope.

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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.

IMG_7761

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

IMG_7769

Joy is great

But sorrow pushes deeper

Into God’s bosom

A gateway to grace.

 

Sorrow is a shadow

That walks with one

And urges on toward

The Lord’s waiting arms.

 

Sorrow works repentance

Humbling down and tears

And plunging oneself

At Jesus’ feet.

 

My deepest need

For comfort and strength

Stokes the fire within

Makes love burn afresh.

 

Sorrow colors

My praise and worship

Drives me to touch

All heaven’s gates.

 

I’m like a bird

That hovers over

Sorrow’s sea

Not wanting to land

For I am weak, you see.

 

But God whispers

“My strength

Is made perfect

In your weakness

So, lean closer

And trust deeper

I am your rest.”

 

Is it even possible

To just fly away

Under the shadow

Of God’s wings

Where I hide myself

And pain can never reach?

 

I cry out

For the Savior’s light

For in Him darkness

Cannot ever abide.

 

And so He makes me

Afloat in His mercy

And in the power

Of His great love.

 

God’s love never fails

Never wanes, never leaves

Never dries up

Like a river it flows

Untiring, unending

Its healing power

Alive, ever moving

Both now and forever.

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

 

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Of Tables, Teacups, and the Workings of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then illness came.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wondrous workings of God – I am in awe!

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The In-between Place

I didn’t realize it until recently that that is exactly where I am, have been this past almost 14 years. The in-between place, the place where one is suspended between the past and the longed-for place somewhere in the future. The in-between place can be a hard place to be. It’s not really where you want to find yourself in, and yet, you are somehow powerless to leave, not until the time is ripe and good and it’s what God has planned. The in-between place is a place of waiting. Waiting for a breakthrough – in career, in finding the right life partner, in conceiving a child, in healing. It could be healing from a painful or traumatic past or healing from an illness.

This blog theme painting was rashly and haphazardly done... but I hope you get the message :) .

This blog theme painting was rushly and haphazardly done, but … you get the message :) .

The in-between place is the valley of life. It is low, often dark and lonely. It’s a place of longing. For most, a deep longing. And yet, the in-between place is a place of healing itself, a conveyance from the place of brokenness toward that bright hope where things will have shifted into one’s favor and everything will have been made whole. The mind has forgotten and the wounds in the heart and soul have healed. But that is only one particular case.

However much we want to reach that breakthrough, it doesn’t entirely depend on ourselves. But it mostly depends on Providence. In the meantime (yes, meantime is the in-between place), we can make ourselves flourish while we wait. The in-between place is not necessarily barren but more of preparatory. Of learning and growing. The in-between place is either a journey or a resting place or both. You journey in the dark, uncertain valley toward your dream and hoped-for destination and you also rest awhile. Either way, you learn the hardest and most important lessons. The in-between place is a classroom and the hardships and challenges if offers are the teachers.

Faith

Hope

Trust

Patience

Courage

Perseverance

Steadfastness

Faith and everything that comes with it are what will make us thrive in this place. And they are what will bring us to our breakthrough.

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

And while we gain hard-fought learning and wisdom in this place, it also offers the greatest opportunity to know God more intimately. Which, by the way, is the finest form of wisdom. We don’t come to know Him as the God who sits on His throne and barks orders to His angel armies while they scurry about. A God who keeps Himself aloof with the affairs of His people. No, but we will come to know a God who is very personal, who wants Himself to be known intimately, who wants to build a divinely passionate relationship with us. One which the gates of hell cannot prevail against. One which no one and nothing can pluck us out of. Or separate us from.

That was the kind of relationship God wanted to establish with His people, the Israelites of old. But for them, the in-between place, that place between the bondage of Egypt and the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, is just a wilderness, a harrowing journey they didn’t care much about. In fact, they complained and murmured continually. Some of us (even I on occasions) have been like the Israelites one time or another while waiting to arrive at our Promised Lands. And then, there are those who never arrive, just like many of the Israelites had not, their carcasses scattered in the desert. Just because they did not have faith.

And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. (Debut. 8:2-3)

Allowed you to hunger. I very well know that the Prophet Moses wasn’t only talking about hunger for food, but also for that longed-for something at the end of our in-between place. I believe even the ancient Israelites weren’t thinking only about food, but they were also hankering for a place they could call home, where they could at last settle down and take root.

But now we understand that God allows us this hunger. For only through knowing it that we turn to Him, realizing sooner or later that only Him could truly satisfy.

So, we surrender to this hunger and to the will of the Sustainer. And just like how He had provided for His people in the past, He will provide everything we need. For He has a plan for us. And His plan is perfect. He will bring us to our Promised Land.

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Living Life in the Hard

I settle in the warm, silky water of my tub, my head nestled in its smooth curve that hugs my back. I close my eyes and utter a silent, heartfelt prayer. (I have developed the practice of saying a prayer in my heart and soul whenever gratitude hits me, those moments when I could clearly see the difference between misery and comfort. And even contentment. I am quick to grab those moments and hold them close for just a while until I release them into the air with my gratitude and prayer of thanks).

hard places

With my eyes closed and my flesh caressed by magnolia-scented water laced with lavender salts, I say my thanksgiving to God. My heart overflows. I don’t think about the fact that Felix put me in the tub and scrubbed me with a stiff loofah earlier and that he will come back to rinse me, wrap me in my fluffy robe, then carry me back to the waiting wheelchair (and always with a thump!), and then the half-hour of rest in bed until I could sit up again to apply lotion and change into fresh clothes.

I don’t think about those things, the things that others do for me because I am unable to do them myself. I don’t think about the fact that I can’t walk and go out and many other things that I cannot do, not to mention the physical suffering and difficulties. I just want to dwell in this moment now that I am in this tub and my skin is silky and all is well in my revised definition of well.

For I had known months of not being able to bathe. So, these here are the fringes of bliss. If not heaven itself.

How do you live life in the hard? It’s not always been like this for me for the past more than 13 years of being ill. In the earlier years when one does her best to hold on to the old life of good health and complete strength while facing the stark reality that things may never go back to where they were before, or worse, if it all ends up to an untimely death – it was pure horror. That fear, that uncertainty – they make a body and soul tremble to the core.

Those early years for me could be defined by one word: desperation. When you’re desperate, your desperation will dictate the life you are to live. You don’t even plan it. There’s no time for careful planning. There are only bursts of panic and a kind of faith you will never find in a sunny, rose-strewn pathway. That kind of faith is only birthed in the shadow of the valley of death. A faith that has a life of its own, a living, breathing, moving faith. A faith that can move mountains in its desperation.

In those times, you will not concern yourself with the question on how you live your life, because first, you need to survive. Many a time in my whole ailing life had I struggled only to survive.

Then there were the years of aridness, of being out of desperation but being stuck in painful waiting. When your days are marked by sighing, wishing, longing, waiting. When you still can’t find your way to thanksgiving for the constant heaviness of soul. It is a dry, fruitless land. A tundra.

During my tundra months, even the dandelions were envied. They proliferate the vacant lot beside our house. Even with the cruel intensity of the summer sun, they stand and not a single, tiny petal or leaf shows weakness. They grow, they exist without a care. I had seriously wished I were a dandelion.

When you’re in that barren place of waiting, where uncertainty is the prevailing climate of the land more than great expectations, how you live life is dictated by your surroundings. Faith again plays an important role, but so does hope. Steadfast faith and tenacious hope. Those are your loyal companions, friends that stick closer than a brother.

The year 2015 was that for me (well, one of those years). Faith had me clinging to the powerful promises of the psalms and hope drove me to edit photos everyday with a chosen verse from a psalm and shared them on FB. One hundred and fifty psalms in one hundred fifty days. That’s almost covered half of the year, the same amount of time of living in faith and hope and not knowing the other offerings of life, like enjoyment and happiness and dreaming. In fact, I had stopped writing on my blog during those months. I only posted on IG, photos of my tea or the pastry I was able to eat, with a huge pink hibiscus in the background plucked from our garden. Or a book I was trying to read. Or my Tim – from school, sleeping beside me, eating, smiling.

Those photos I shared were but snippets of life. But still, they were signs of life. Of faith. Of hope.

The hibiscus tree with those huge pink flowers was directly in my line of vision when I looked out of the French doors through the patio to the garden beyond. When physical weakness and discomforts and sadness and the desolation of waiting uncertainly tried to steal my hope and semblance of peace, I looked at the hibiscus tree boasting of pink flowers the size of a plate. I always found hope in it. The flowers opening wide and smiling to the world were a sign of life for me.

Just as I had found hope at that piece of blue between the roofs many years ago, when I had sat in our garage all day and bemoaned my hapless state. Praying and waiting for healing had felt like digging on hard concrete and barely making a scratch. I had looked at that piece of blue wedged between our garage roof and that of the neighbor’s, a very bright cerulean in the mid-afternoon sun, and hope had come rushing back with a fresh vigor.

As long as I can see that piece of blue up there, where my Savior and Healer lives, where all life flows — I will believe! I will have hope!

I had stared up at that framed blue sky and repeated those affirmations before I was wheeled back to my room to rest.

In the hard, you live your life as the circumstances present themselves, but always with faith and hope. Faith and hope are the threads that hold everything together. When both are lost, everything unravels. When everything unravels, it would be like trying to hold water in your fists.

Felix wheels me back to our bedroom and I cocoon myself in my thick bathrobe as I settle in bed to rest after my bath. A glimpse of the elusive good life flashes in front of me and I get it: living life in the hard is intentionally pursuing and doing the God things and collecting all the gifts, big and small, special or ordinary, neat or messy, because they all add up at the end of the day.

wisteria wall

“Wisteria” walls of our bedroom.

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