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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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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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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Rest

Rest is good. But for many of us including myself, we want to avoid it as much as possible and as long as we can hold out. That is, until we are burned out. Or until we hear the voice of the Lord calling, inviting us to His presence where we can find rest and peace for our souls. For the strong who move about in the world “spinning yarn into gold” day and night, they may find rest in their plush hotel rooms as exhaustion catches up with them. What they have is physical rest which their bodies so badly need.

AT THE CENTER. My unfinished strawberry painting. I am dismayed that, after examining my heart, this project indeed bears my fingerprints and not the Lord Jesus'. It's a deep-in-the-heart thing I need not divulge :( .

AT THE CENTER. My unfinished strawberry painting. Although the name was inspired by one of my favorite praise songs,”Jesus at the Center”, I am dismayed that, after examining my heart, this project indeed bears my fingerprints and not the Lord Jesus’. It’s a deep-in-the-heart thing I need not divulge :( . Who or what is at the center of your life?

The owner of a large Japanese cosmetic ingredients manufacturer who is a supplier of our own company for the past two decades recently visited Manila. Before his trip here, he passed through China, his days dotted with business meetings. When Felix my husband met him, this ageing businessman looked so tired and haggard he was ready to drop. He recounted to Felix his many appointments before and after his visit to our country. He is so busy and always on-the-go that he got confused with which airlines he was flying in until Felix offered his assistance.

This man may squeeze in rest in-between his wildly busy schedule, but it will just be a physical rest, a few hours of sleep wherein his body ceases to do any activity. But at every waking moment, the mind zooms in automatically on the day’s agenda.

I believe that true rest is free of worries, fears, and anxieties. That the waking moments are sweet, to be relished and not to be dreaded.

True rest is finding a place where our bodies, minds, and hearts can settle in peace and comfort. I believe that it is in this kind of rest that our bodies produce and multiply healthy cells and we recover.

We know that, but often, we forget. I do.

Two weeks ago, about the time I was supposed to write for my weekly blogpost, I had already planned on a topic. But as I collected the thoughts in my mind, it felt like the cup wasn’t filling up. It remained empty. That was my cup. I was running on empty and the Lord wanted me to see that.

I cannot write about what I do not have. I cannot give away what myself is lacking and needing, because it isn’t even there.

Simply put, I cannot give what I haven’t received.

So, I decided to pass the week without a blogpost. I needed a writing holiday. It wasn’t about the writing per se, it was about being filled up so I have something to pour out.

I needed rest – my mind, my heart, and most of all, my body. I posted an unfinished strawberry painting project on IG and informed everyone that there wouldn’t be a new blogpost on that week.

It was very clear that the Lord was inviting me to rest. His rest. And I couldn’t deny anymore the fact that my weak and ailing body was crying out for it.

Rest is God’s gift to His children. Rest is His grace. Rest is His mercy. (For we could be so stubborn sometimes, ignoring the rhythms of our bodies and being cruel to them). To enter into His rest every now and then is an standing invitation. All we need to do is drop everything and enter in.

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Mat. 11:28-30)

These words of the Lord Jesus Christ show how compassionate He is toward us – the weary, the burnt out, the suffering, the stooped-down.

Why do we keep on spinning until we succumb to exhaustion, endlessly doing and performing and achieving and reaching and striving? No matter how much we deny it, we keep on doing because we want to leave a mark. We want our lives to matter. And I believe that is not a bad thing. But I also believe that our performances matter less to God than our deep desire to commune with Him and revel in His presence.

And maybe, we also unintentionally offend God when we work so hard to show to the world a stellar work, claiming it’s for God’s glory, but in reality, our marks and fingerprints are all over the place. We may not realize it but He knows our hearts more than we do. Our work should bear His marks and fingerprints. 

So, I entered into God’s rest and did my best to keep still and be not distracted by the world. It’s easier to do that when there is physical suffering involved. But entering into His rest also requires our humbling down and heartfelt confessing and repenting, if we know there are reasons to, like when we have made a god of our work or something. It is only when peace descends upon us that we can settle in His rest. And even if there is suffering, His unfailing love, His peace and comfort, will steady our hearts.

This is the reason why my heart grieves for those people who have not really known, received, and loved the Lord Jesus Christ and yet, still refuse Him in their sickbeds. I don’t understand. They want to be healed but they do not want to receive the Healer. They do not want to enter into His kind of holy rest. Is it maybe because they do not believe in the first place? Or they think they have been good they don’t need saving? Or they do not have enough divine fear? Or maybe mostly because they haven’t known and understood and didn’t hear enough? Seek enough?

But how can a fragile human being whose life is just a vapour which appears for a little time, and then vanishes away (see James 4:14) afford to refuse Him? How can a sick person find rest without the Lord Jesus’ presence, His love and peace? For all our hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But this thing I learned: we shouldn’t give up in offering God’s rest – His salvation – over and over until we are heard and He is received. For in the Lord Jesus, there is rest from our labors, ailments, and sufferings.

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Faith Unfailing

On the eve of writing this blogpost, another one of those super unwanted, agonizingly hard suffering attacks gripped me. Actually, the second one on that day. These attacks, at their ugliest peak, would drive me reeling in a swirl of emotions: fear, angst, uncertainty, weariness, and even anger. Not to mention the sheer physical hardship my body is subjected to in the first place. It would try to snuff out my peace, joy, faith, and hope. Being at the heart of that hard place is like dangling over a deep canyon. It’s cruel; it’s punishing. It is superlatively rejected.

COUNTRY LANE on 9" x 12" wc paper.

COUNTRY LANE on 9″ x 12″ wc paper by yours truly.

This is the kind of test my faith puts up against. Every day. Every week. Every month. Every year. These past more than 13 years.

I need a faith that never fails. Only by the grace of God.

That is why, at the heart of every suffering, I have prepared a Word capsule and I do my best to recite it even just once during those moments when I feel like going through a needle’s eye. It is this:

I will live. I will not die. The Lord will satisfy me with long life. According to my faith, it will be done unto me. I will not fear but only believe.

The key words are: according to my faith. 

I know that there is a lot of suffering in the world: persecution, harassment, abuse, hunger, sickness. I am sure that mine is not unique or that, among the suffering, I got the worst. I do not believe so. That is why, the common enemy of faith is this question: What makes one think that one could be healed or delivered when so many in the world, including Christians, are suffering and dying without receiving healing or being delivered from their plight?

What makes me think that among the millions who are suffering – men, women, and children – I would receive healing from the Lord Jesus Christ and be delivered from all my suffering, and be sent to testify and proclaim the gospel? What, indeed?

It is this: According to my faith, it will be done unto me.  

It is the echo of the Lord’s own words.

And when He had come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.”

Then He touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith let it be to you.” (Mat. 9:28-29, emphasis added)

 I believe that He is able to do it.

According to my faith, it will be to me.

I am not helpless. I have a choice. I can choose one thing and the Lord will honor it. 

I choose to believe and trust. I choose faith.

 You see, hope, for me, is looking forward toward a certain destination in the future, that there is a bright tomorrow that awaits even if now there is only dimness and hardship. Hope, certainly, is the anchor of my soul, sure and steadfast (Heb. 6:19). (I wrote about hope in early January). When, at some point, all else fails, hope clings on.

But faith is the fuel that drives every single day to move toward that destination.

Oftentimes for me, hope seems so far away, somewhere in the far horizon shrouded in a thick mist so that I can barely see it’s there.

But faith is ever-present. It is believing here, now, where we’re at.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb. 11:1)

Faith is an action word. It takes action. It believes, trusts, makes the first step, and the next. It is at the heart of faith that the Lord Jesus moves. It is faith that pries His hand out of His bosom and stretches it to heal. Faith is His native language, His music. He dances to it.

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. (Heb. 11:6)

If we listen to other voices in our mind, those self-defeating thoughts, faith cannot work mightily on our behalf. Faith, to work, must be founded on a purely single-minded disposition that believes God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. We need not believe that the fate of another will be our fate, too. But we can and will believe that the miracle of another can be ours, too. That is faith. That is the purpose of testimonies. To believe in testimonies is to believe in God and His Word.

The Lord Jesus did not perform many miracles in His own hometown because of their unbelief. Unbeliefs and doubts tie down His hands. 

Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief… (Mark 6:5-6)

He can do no mighty work when we doubt or not believe Him! That is why He was adamant when He told Jairus, “Be not afraid, only believe.” (See Mark 5:21-43).

But look how He reacted to the Canaanite woman who begged Him to heal her daughter, even after being told, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.” That hurts! But the distraught mother was unfazed. When she expressed her willingness to eat of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table, the Lord Jesus marvelled at her faith! He answered her:

“O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt!” (Mat. 15:28, exclamation point added for emphasis)

And her daughter was healed in that very same hour.

Many times, I had been that Canaanite mother in my desperation. It doesn’t matter if I was a dog licking the crumbs that fall from the table. I will do it to get well for the sake of my children.

Be it unto me even as I will or desire.

What do you desire the Lord Jesus to do for you? He is asking. He asked the blind man, the blind man did not hesitate to answer.

So Jesus answered and said to him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”

The blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.” (Mark 10:51)

My faith has received too many beatings than I can count. It bears the scars of years of unrelenting trials and tests, of battles fought and won, only by the great mercies of God. But I thank my Savior Jesus Christ that it is still standing, sure and steadfast, to this day. For it is founded upon the Rock.

Dear readers, I have a wonderful gift for you: I wrote about the amazing testimony of Brother Michael Garcia, a poor, blind man who was called by the Lord from the pit of darkness and despair. Please click here to read the entire testimony.

Do not fear. Only believe.

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The Way of Hope

On New Year’s Eve, I sat at my new, shiny marble-topped painting table (a Christmas gift from Felix), staring into my laptop screen. I flitted from Pinterest to Instagram to Photos Library and back again, looking for inspiration, a photo I would paint that would lift off the sadness and weariness I was feeling. I wanted to paint but I felt that both my body and spirit were tired. Minutes ticked by and I couldn’t decide. I planned to do a series of serious painting jobs, elaborate orchids and fruits, at the beginning of 2017, but that night, I just wanted to experience the joy of watercolor. But the moment didn’t come. I felt tired, undecided, uninspired. Like the old year that just passed. I ended up dabbling a parent bear and its cub, tightly snuggled together.

mommy bear and cub

The mommy bear and cub I doodled on NYE. Maybe my soul was wanting to be cherished by my Father in heaven and let Him soothe away all my aches, sickness, and suffering.

That morning, I wrote on my prayer journal feverishly. I remembered the year that was, all the times that I was left behind when Felix and the kids went away: out-of-town excursions last summer, and recently, the Christmas party of our company, Actichem, which culminated in a buffet lunch at Vikings. There were many others in-between – them going out, me staying behind. Like the other years before. In those times, I had felt desolate. But they, too, passed.

While I was writing on my prayer journal, I felt sad, bitter, resentful, and angry all at the same time. There was a lump in my throat as I thought about my life. I covered about two whole pages and although I wrote so many things (mainly about my soul’s bitter complaints), what I can remember clearly now is writing “alone, alone, alone!” Can you feel the angst? (Please forgive me for writing thus, but it will get better. Promise).

HOPE. I was inspired to paint this photo I found on IG, the tiny purple flowers shooting out of the crack of the stone wall, like hope shining over our lives even when darkness threatens.

HOPE. I was inspired to paint this photo I found on IG, the tiny purple flowers shooting out of the crack of the stone wall, like hope shining over our lives even when darkness threatens.

So I sat at my painting table, feeling the weight of my achy, inflamed back and my sorrowing spirit. I saw myself sitting on a rock in the middle of a circle where roads went in all directions with the labels: “patient waiting”, “perseverance”, “persistence”, “do not grow faint in prayer”, “quiet strength”, “steadfastness”, and many other blurry signs, but none that I would like to take at that moment. I just wanted to sit and do nothing.

But I remember begging God to “help me and tell me what to do because I don’t know what to do and where to go from here”. I had tried everything. I had walked each road in that multiple crossroads. Still, I am too sick and weak to walk and travel. And there are still times in the day that I wrestle for good breathing.

 A few hours before New Year, I stared at a framed artwork on the wall with a Bible verse:

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

Hope. I still don’t leap in joy, both physically and spiritually. But hope carries me through the days. It carried me through the last hours of the old year to welcome the new year… still faithful to the Lord. When 12:00AM struck and fireworks boomed out of everywhere and lit up the sky without letup – purples, reds, oranges, greens, blues, gold, and silver sparks and lights – I felt the powerful presence of God. I raised my hands toward heaven and praised and worshiped Him with hallelujahs. Nothing can equal His power no matter how much noise we create. It is still His world and I am just a tiny speck in it. A speck He calls by name.

So, I let hope carry me through my quotidian life, especially through the wearying days. The Bible says that hope doesn’t disappoint, although I feel terribly disappointed at times. Still, hope is there in the background of my life, as the mountains surround Jerusalem. It hovers over my head, a sturdy assurance as the heavens above. It is settled and deeply rooted in the soil of my heart forever.

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

It is hope that feeds peace and joy. Hope that exhales out fears, doubts, and uncertainties, and inhales in invigorating air to sustain and continue life.

I saw myself standing up from that rock where I sat not knowing what to do or think or pray for, and chose the way of hope. I have no huge plans for now. Still waiting for divine inspiration perhaps. Not even words to encourage you, or an overflow of joy to infect you, or a shining light to brighten up your day. But you and I – we have hope. For the coming days and weeks and months.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast… (Portion of Heb. 6:19).

This is what we’re going to do (see Rom 12: 12):

 Rejoice in hope (though sometimes we don’t feel like rejoicing).

Be patient in tribulation (though sometimes we think we have completely run out of stock; God will replenish our supply).

Continue steadfastly in prayer (though sometimes we can’t seem to find the words to move His hand).

 The Word of God has an answer to our every need. An encouragement. A hope.

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