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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The Inward Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Slow Life

There’s a fast life, a slow, and then there’s a still one. Still is like that of Joni Eareckson Tada’s. But her quadriplegia (paralyzed from neck down) didn’t stop her to live a full life in the Lord. She makes beautiful art using her teeth. She has traveled around the world testifying about the goodness of God and helping those who are disabled like herself through her Wheels for the World Ministry. She has also written many books. For a quadriplegic, she’s indefatigable.

A still life could also be a spirit-crippled life. There are people who are paralyzed by fear and are unable to move on in life. But that’s not what I want to write about so let’s not go there.

I’m in the middle. Since my illness, life has tremendously slowed down. But before it, I lived a fast life. I even walked fast. I hated slow. My mind was always on overdrive. While my mind worked fast, my body never failed to follow. Multitasking was my forte. Until the day that God deemed it good to strip me off of all strength.

Adjustment to the “new normal” took time and a lot of pains. Impatience and frustrations were the order of the day. Sadly, they still rear their ugly heads every now and then. But you learn to “settle in” somehow and live. But not without the abundant grace of the Lord. You see, you can either live defeated by resentment, self-pity, and discouragement, or, receive inspiration from the Lord and revel in it. Everyday, I resolve to choose the latter.

The more I pursue Him and His gifts every morning that I wake up, the more He reveals Himself to me and fills my heart with inspiration to live life as He purposed it for me. So, I have learned to live with the speed (or slowness) I am given everyday and appreciate every activity I am able to accomplish with it. For the career woman, she can shower, change, put on makeup, dry her hair, gather her bag, gadgets, keys, grab a power breakfast, and start the car all in a breeze. That was my past. Now, I would be happy if I had accomplished one planned activity in a day.

But the slow life has its gifts, too. You seek rest a few times a day and when you do have it, you don’t waste it. You get to live in the present and appreciate the moment and the small things you are able to accomplish. It’s like every successful activity is a celebration, a reason to lift up praise and thanksgiving. In every simple task, the joy is deeper and more meaningful, maybe because you know how to be completely deprived of it during season of sickness. Nothing is taken for granted. In the slow life, you either complain constantly, hurl things, and maybe scream out your anguish (things I had tried doing a few times these 10 years), or bask in the Lord’s grace and mercy, defiant to your illness and suffering.

The slow life depends on the strength and timing of God. Though you may have many plans for the week or for the day, often, you are able to accomplish only a handful of them. But you learn to live with that and be grateful even. That is far better than not being able to do anything at all. When it really gets hard and encouragement dwindles, I can even draw strength from this, of all verses!

But for him who is joined to all the living there is hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. (Ecc. 9:4)

A living dog is better than a dead lion. This could either drive you to wallow in self-pity or thank the Lord for the breath in your nostrils, the light in your eyes, the good head on your shoulders, and the love of the Lord, family, and friends that surrounds you. I may not have the strength of a lion, but in my extreme weakness, I am strong in the Lord – Hallelujah!

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:10)

The bottom line is, though your life maybe slow, if you are drenched in inspiration and dwelling in the grace and beauty of the Lord, you are still able to accomplish things that bless God and others.

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Journey with Jesus,