Whole Again

I love You, O Lord, my strength

I love You, O Lord, my strong high tower

Where else can I run?

Where else can I hide away?

Whole Again

So my heart has been singing lately. Gigantic exhale. What a relief, what a joy as my Lord and Savior King folded me back into His exhilarating love! As I struggled to fix what was ailing my heart and spirit, He waited patiently. He gave me room. He is so gracious (and gentlemanly) like that. My grappling culminated last Friday overnight worship service when a song offered by a group of beloved adult sisters gripped me and I sobbed and sobbed in surrender. For quite a long time, I had been doing my best to hold it all in, and although I had been asking the Lord for mercy and help, I realized that night that I wasn’t really relinquishing everything. There was still that insistence to hold onto sorrow (and all other negative emotions akin to it) due to unmet longings and unanswered prayers.

But that night, and after fasting from Facebook for many days (which, I’m glad to tell you, has been like a soothing balm), the Lord made me realize how miserable I had let myself become. Yes, miserable, poor, needy, pitiful. But I was glad that He made me realize the fullness of it and led me to Himself and the truth that only He can do something for me. Not the world. Not the things I see that make me feel miserable in the first place.

That night, it was an altogether surrender all over again to His mercy, love, and sovereignty. And to what He offers.

Oh, I sobbed unabashedly as the ladies sang. I could be that and more before Him. So hungry, so in need of Him. I raised my hands and sobbed, “Remember me, my Lord.” I am sure I cried out many other soul-deep supplications, but suffice it to say now that He let me see my hapless state, and again, reminded me of His words as at the last:

I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Rev. 3:18)

But even before that night, I was gradually recovering emotionally and spiritually as I stepped up my spiritual life, shunning Facebook and the world in general, and writing on my prayer journal more fervently, inviting the Lord on and between the pages of it as I communed with Him. Throughout the day, I would whisper a prayer or a praise or a word of thanks. As I turned more inwardly, towards myself and our own home and life, I became stronger spiritually everyday. Hallelujah!

I am now slowly assimilating the fact that, immersing my senses in the world and its wiles had made me “scattered”. That is, my thoughts, emotions, desires, and decisions had gone quite awry (imagine charged particles or substances not in equilibrium, but then, that’s Chemistry 😀 ) when they should have been united – WHOLE – if only I’d focused on Jesus and the things of God alone. So lately, I have been whispering a prayer: “Draw me ever nearer to You, Lord Jesus. For only near You I am healed and whole and holy.”

I had let the things I see in this world (mostly through FB since I can’t go out) influence my mindset and affections that should have been otherwise entirely influenced by the Lord Jesus and His words and truth through His Holy Spirit. There is an entirely different “world” from the one we see physically or virtually, and we can easily miss it if we do not intentionally turn our eyes from the ones we’re used to seeing or love seeing and diligently seek it. This another “world” is the kingdom of God on earth where we can see signs, wonders, and miracles.

But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Mat. 12:28, emphasis added)

Looking at the world may stir up grievances instead of pure thanksgiving to God. It is then that we compare and see what we lack and feel discontented and begin to complain.

It is this deceitfulness of the world that the Lord has warned us about.

“…the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark. 4:19)

It is this desire for other things that sways our heads and hearts into the direction they should not take. But as I peeled off my eyes of the world and looked straight ahead, I saw the things of God – His wonders and miracles.

She is a mother of six. Her husband, who was addicted to drugs, abandoned them. She had to rear her children on her own and she was not wealthy. Actually, she was dirt poor. But she was resolute to care for her 6 children: feed, clothe, and send them to school no matter what. No matter if she picked up garbage which she did. She worked night and day with her bare hands. She worked, not minding the stark hardship of it all. If you heard her testify and say, “Life. Was. Very. Hard.”, you would know and understand the hardship she went through.

He was a construction worker before he became totally blind. He is an orphan and his remaining family and relations abandoned him. He was blind and so alone. He couldn’t work anymore. He lived in a wooden cart. Many days would go without him tasting any food and lived only by water. He was hungry, thirsty, cold, and so lonely. One day he cried out toward heaven for God to take his life and end his suffering. He said, “So, I won’t feel this pain in my heart anymore.” 

As I listened to these testimonies in the past days, I realized that I had been looking the wrong way. This here is where the eyes of God are trained on. This here is true life, kingdom life where God works and His heartbeat is felt and heard.

As I teetered on sulk and feeling faint, the Lord waited patiently. When I finally came to wisdom, He met me with an abundance of His grace.

He anointed my eyes with eye salve and I am again truly seeing. And I was healed. Spiritually. Whole again.

The mother of 6 has now a schoolteacher, some are in college, some are in high school. And her husband has come to Jesus and He restored their family.

The poor blind man received the Lord Jesus. After a few months of diligently attending services, He could see. Now, many others are being saved because of his testimony.

(The testimonies I shared here are from our church, JESUS MIRACLE CRUSADE INTERNATIONAL MINISTRY. The man who used to be blind is our beloved Bro.Michael Garcia).

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Poor in Spirit

For days I put my heart under scrutiny, an in-depth heart examination as I tried to search for the reason of my sadness. For even though I determined to go back to the first and great commandment and try to forget the more than 13 years that I had not received my healing, and start afresh, I could’t feel the spark. I went through my days going through the motions, the very thing I’d said I wanted to avoid. I couldn’t get myself to fully rejoice in the Lord, although I continued to do the things of God diligently as before – praying, Bible reading and journaling, praising (if I could), writing on my prayer journal, and painting flowers with a verse written in metallic gold paint – all to bring honor to Him. Still, my spirit groped.

YELLOW BLOOMS on my Monologue journal. I love painting on my journal and using metallic gold paint for Bible verse.

YELLOW BLOOMS on my Monologue journal. I love painting on my journal and using metallic gold paint for Bible verse.

I asked myself: What am I harboring in my heart?

Is it a silent rebellion that has its roots in resentful feelings?

Is it a silent, insidious sulk that is hardly remediable except the Lord do something about it?

Is it a combination of weariness and sorrow that cannot be soothed?

Is it bitterness that is hard to scour and dislodge?

Or, a defiant cynicism that is the beginning of my undoing?

I knew that it couldn’t be only all those things without it having any redeemable qualities. I discerned that my soul was longing for something more, besides my healing, something that is beyond my heart’s known desires (some of these desires, when put under the Savior’s penetrating light, are really not necessary in kingdom work). I guess I’m longing to see and live differently, far from the reach of the world’s standards.

I confess I’m weary of the world and the things it does to my heart and mind. It influences me in such a way that my mindset and affections are partly shaped by it. I’m getting weary envying and coveting and being plunged into the abyss of dismay and discouragement. Or numbness. That is, envying and coveting NOT other people’s goods, but other people’s lives – their health and strength, the places they go, things they are able to do and enjoy.

But please don’t get me wrong. I do not wish to see Las Vegas or Hollywood or other plush places most people wish to see. I wouldn’t long so deeply just for those, no. No, no, no. I just want to get well and get out and get away for a while. I want to be healed and be used by the Lord according to His purposes and plans. I want to live and experience the thrill of that kind of life. So alive and meaningful!

But as I wait and be ill still and suffer, I remain vulnerable to these unprofitable emotions which I hate to mention again.

And so, I arrived at a conclusion: I have not gone cold and backsliding, I am just poor in spirit. For years I have been poor in spirit, even as I learned to live and walk in full faith, pray as a child of God should, read the Bible diligently, praise and worship, and write about God’s story. Because of my longtime sickness and suffering that always threatens to steal my life, my future and joy, I have always been at the complete mercy of God – poor, needy, dependent, hungry, thirsty, desperate. And even as I am weak enough as to let the world subject me into a whirl of emotions that doesn’t help or add to my stature, I am the more poor in spirit.

I am the more in need of help. God’s help. In need of wholeness, wholeness that only the Lord Jesus can give.

I saw my true poverty for even as my illnesses oppress me, so I have let the world oppress me also by desiring to have a piece and taste of it, even for that harmless part of it: travels and vacations, dates with the husband, playdates with the kids, and more. Those are not sinful desires, I know. They are just normal desires that a wife and mother cherishes. But I have let their absence in my life and my deep longing for them steal my joy and my zeal for my Lord nonetheless.

The good part is, I have come to know how poor I am and how I need my Savior even more so.

I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (Rev. 3:18)

Refined gold. Our true wealth is in the Lord Jesus Christ.

White garments. He will clothe us with wholeness.

Anointing. That we may see.

I want to be truly rich, whole, and seeing, so there is a need for a change of heart and mind.

Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord… (part of 2 Cor. 8:17). And so I have made some practical changes that I knew would greatly help. One of those is to not live in and through Facebook. Most of my heartaches have come from that bittersweet place. Sadly, there are things I see there that make the heart heavy, doubt, and even grow cold and can make one stumble in his/her faith walk. But I need it also to share my blogposts or my art to those who want to have a piece of it. So, I only go there now when it’s really necessary.

The good things, really good things, are the ones you rarely see on your FB newsfeed: praying and fasting believers, workers visiting the sick and bringing the Gospel of salvation to places others would not dare to go. Of the saints of God weeping in worship, in poverty, in hardship. People of God who are poor in spirit: dependent on and hungry for God everyday of their lives.

No, you won’t see them on FB, but it would be a great blessing to be serving alongside them.

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mat. 5:3)

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Going Back to the First and Greatest Commandment

Yes, because, to go straight to the heart of the matter, that is the whole purpose of our existence. Are we created to exist for ourselves, follow our own desires, build our own “empires” and reign in them like kings and queens? We can try them all for a time, but sooner or later, we will realize that apart from God, we can do nothing. Or fall upon Mark 8:36 and it’s too late:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Even those who are already in Him but have grown or are growing cold and cynical (or doubtful, bitter, and resentful), perhaps because of the diverse trials that seem to cling like barnacles to a rock – they need this, too.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I'm quite happy.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I’m quite happy.

At the start of the year, I wrote about hope when I was grappling for inspiration and courage to face yet another year, still with the hardships of my illnesses hounding me. A week after that, I wrote about the way of being filled up with joy, as a glimmer of light and hope and a bright future seemed to dawn on my horizon. Even if only spiritually. For now.

As the week stretched to another week, love and surrender beckoned me. I so much want to shed off the weariness, the humdrum rhythm of my days and heart. I would do anything just to break it off. I want to challenge myself and coax it out of its tired stupor, as in sick and tired stupor (pun intended), and be greatly expectant of life and God’s miracles once again. For I believe there is no other way to live life than that.

So, how do we love God above all things, with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls? Do we even know how to, really know? Oh, I know of many people who do. Their lives are spelled L-O-V-E and S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E. They don’t live for pleasures. They don’t even think about them secretly in their hearts. Their joy is to be at the feet of Jesus many hours everyday, praising, worshiping, praying, fasting. Or trekking valleys and mountains, looking for the lost soul, holes in their tattered shoes or sandals. Yet, that’s their greatest joy and contentment. Yes, I have heard stories like these in our Church, especially those who come from the remotest parts of the provinces, where walking with their own two feet are the only available, or affordable, mode of transportation. These are those who you will never see sporting anything on your FB newsfeed. God bless them!

Then there are those who are fully blessed – spiritually, physically, materially – that they leap in joy and shout out their praises. Who wouldn’t? Even me who is weak and ailing, when the cruel claws of suffering relinquish their hold on me – my spirit shouts and I would love to squeeze the face of my good, good Father in thanksgiving. In those healing moments, my spirit shouts “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!”, followed by “I love You! I love You! I love You!” And mean it too, with all I have.

But what does loving God with all we are look like when suffering squeezes out all our peace, joy, strength, and even hope? It will look like a soul slumped at Jesus’ feet, begging for mercy and deliverance, enveloped with sorrow, yet full of faith. Faith that is bold enough to proclaim —

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him… (Job 13:15

Keeping God’s commandment is the whole duty of man (see Ecc. 12:13) and the first and greatest commandment is to love Him above all things.

…”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” (Mat. 22:37)

Sometimes, this proves to be challenging, hard for those who are struggling against bitterness and cynicism. We can go through the motions, but nothing is hidden from God. He knows our hearts more than we can ever attempt to. He who has made our heart, shall He not know?

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. (Ps. 33:13-15 ESV)

Love for God is more than a surge of our fickle emotions, more than a high or a thrill. It is a decision, a sacred commitment. A covenant. Love is a verb. To obey God humbly and willingly is to love Him. The Lord Jesus said,

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

Sometimes, we find it hard to love Him fervently because we can’t seem to feel His love for us. But we know from His Word that He loves us, yes, even when it doesn’t look that way sometimes. So, we work it out, as we do in all our important earthly relationships. We pray. We worship. I have found out, as many others have before me, that meeting the Lord Jesus Christ in worship is the surest way to feel His love.

With my weak diaphragm and problems with breathing, I can only sing one or two praise songs, if at all. But during those moments as I humbly present myself to Him, I am enveloped by His light and love and my worship becomes a sacred dance. Our dance. His Spirit and mine. And I know then that I am deeply, completely, unfailingly, eternally, loved.

This year, I am poised to continue to run the race that is set before me, forgetting the 13 years that I had not received my healing. The 13 long years that I had suffered, that I had been left behind, that I had struggled against deep longings and emotions that were unprofitable. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Or record of unanswered prayers.

Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead (part of Phil. 3:13) —

— with a renewed commitment to love God above all things. Above my healing and dreams and longings.

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That Our Joy May Be Full

When was the last time that your joy was full? I mean, in every sense of the word “full”? No part fear, no part sorrow. No lack, no traces of longing or dissatisfaction somewhere deep inside. You are content and your joy is pure and unsullied. Maybe for you, it was last Christmas or yesterday or this morning. For me, I can’t remember the last time. It was too long ago, a time when good health was mine to enjoy. For even when my son was born, a day I would have celebrated with trumpets blowing, sorrow filled my heart. I was blessed with a beautiful, healthy baby boy, but I was too sick and weak to relish the moment. Instead of my heart being filled with joy, it was filled with fear. It has been that way since my health was stolen and in its place is sickness and suffering: joy mixed with sorrow. If that were even possible.

This was just a super quick doodle on my mixed media journal. But if you look closer, notice the metallic gold, copper, and ruby on the petals’ and leaves’ edges. For aren’t answered prayers and fulfilled dreams like gilded things?

Since around Christmas last year, I had been feeling depleted and running on low (if not empty). I couldn’t seem to put my heart and mind into a place where I could move in a steady rhythm once again and with some measure of contentment and joy. So, I just let myself float and wait for fresh grace and inspiration to come. Although all that time, I continued steadfastly in prayer.

The night I started to write this, I felt some sense of peace and courage flowing in to continue to serve the Lord with all I am and to love Him just as much. In a subtle, almost imperceptible way, I felt a fresh and much deeper still commitment to do those things that are pleasing in God’s eyes creeping into my heart, spreading quietly but surely. I needed that fresh watering of my soul for I had been writing on my prayer journal, asking the Lord to not let me grow cynical.

I remembered the Lord Jesus’ words —

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Mat. 11:28)

“…he who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35)

His love and words woo us back to Him, faithfully and fervently abiding in Him.

I was revived, rekindled, and wooed back into the happy place of loving and following the Lord Jesus Christ. It didn’t come like a rushing wind, or a mighty fire from heaven, or a flood that swept me. It came like a soft feather caressing my face, like a warm flannel gently wrapped around me by unseen hands. I had to strain my ears to listen, to make sure it was there alright.

When I woke up the next morning, my soul whispered, “I love You, my Father, my dearest Lord Jesus Christ”, even before I opened my eyes.

I know, it is well with my soul.

Sometimes when I desire so much to get well and be able to go out, doing the things I’ve been so wanting to do, like traveling and testifying of the grace and mercy of God, a voice whispers in my mind. It tempts me to feel guilty asking for those things that will make me full of joy. Most of the time, it succeeds. I listen, and then feel guilty. But when I reached John 16, I was freed through the Lord’s words. Surely, I have read it numerous times before, but this time, it took on a new color, the very thing that I needed.

“…ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24)

That voice in my head has been lying, for the Lord Jesus tells me differently.

It’s okay to not feel joy-full when we’re deeply longing for something, like healing perhaps. We need not feel guilty if we feel sorrow not receiving the things we so desire. That doesn’t make us ungrateful. And yes, it’s okay to desire the things that will do us a world of good. Even the Lord knows that it’s only when we have received what we asked for that our joy may be full. He’s saying that, until we ask and receive it, its absence in our lives leaves much to be desired and our joy is not complete.

It’s okay to desire and ask and believe that whatever we’re asking for from His hand will make us full of joy.

A healing.

A child.

A friend.

A love.

A yes.

A relationship mended.

A marriage repaired.

A family restored.

A loved one’s salvation.

A place visited.

A dream fulfilled.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.(1 John 5:14-15)

Because, you know what? He’s all there. He is in that place where our joy becomes full. He is there waiting to give it to us, to rejoice with us in the receiving.

Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

The Lord is inviting us, encouraging us, beckoning to us with His outstretched hands.

Ask.

Receive.

Be joy-full.

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Of Christ’s Fullness

I was glad when, a few days before Christmas, I arrived at the Book of John in my daily Bible reading and journaling. This is what I do: I read one book from the OT Beginning at Genesis, then one book from NT, beginning at the Book of Matthew, back and forth. What preceded John was Deuteronomy, so it was law to grace. Unlike Luke, John doesn’t retell the birth of Jesus, but it is equally rich in powerful promises. Walking through the Book of John is like walking through a diamond mine.

GRACE. My original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Serah Loud via IG).

GRACE. My original watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo by Serah Loud via IG).

Full of bright expectations, I was on the lookout for God’s riches in the form of words and promises. And they came, like precious gems sparkling in a dark cave.

And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:16-17)

Of Christ’s fullness we have all received. 

His truth. His grace. His forgiveness. His salvation. His healing. His life.

Yes, because,

…As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God… (John 1:12)

the right

to become

children of God

As the Lord Jesus is, so are we in this world (part of 1 John 4:17). . Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ (part of Romans 8:17).

But sometimes, it just doesn’t seem that way. We fall ill. We suffer. We become destitute – of food, of strength and courage, of healing, of deliverance from problems. Dreams are not fulfilled. Longings are not satisfied. We groan. Tears fall.

But all these don’t change the truth: To those who have received the Lord Jesus Christ and who believe on His name, they are the children and heirs of God. We have that unseen treasure, treasure that neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (part of Mat. 6:20)…

neither death nor life

nor angels nor principalities nor powers

nor things present nor things to come 

nor height nor depth…

Nothing and no one shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom.8:38-39).

So we suffer tribulation, but in essence, in truth, in reality – we are good. We will be fine.

It is well with our soul.

We are not left behind. We are not forsaken. We are not poverty-stricken. The Lord Jesus said in Rev. 2:9: “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)…” Yes, heirs-of-the-kingdom-of-God rich. 

A beloved preacher in our church and his wife came from a wake an hour after Christmas Eve. They were going home to their place knowing that they didn’t have any food prepared for noche buena. So, when they passed by Mini Stop, they realized they were hungry, so they entered and had each a siopao (Chinese steamed bun). The beloved preacher told his wife cheerfully, “So, this is our noche buena.”

While the rest of the Philippines celebrated Christmas Eve with tables laden with food, gifts piled up under the Christmas trees, and carols and laughters ringing out, the beloved preacher and his wife enjoyed their siopao. And they were perfectly fine.

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)

When we maintain a “kingdom of God” perspective, we wouldn’t know or see lack. We only know what we have in Christ.

It would have seemed in my last post that all I desire is to go to places I’ve never been and fill up my senses with the things I would see and experience. But that is not what is foremost in my mind. My desire is to do the will of God. I already have a plan set in place: When I’m already well, I will go wherever the Lord sends me to – to testify and win souls.

At the beginning of 2016, I set my life’s theme based on Isaiah 6:8: “Here am I! Send me.”  Throughout the year, every prayer I prayed for my healing, I ended it with, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”

I wasn’t sent anywhere except to my painting table or the patio. Still, it is well with my soul.

A MOST BLESSED, PROSPEROUS, VERY NEW YEAR TO US ALL!

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He Fills Us to Overflowing

I lay in bed with the singing and laughter still ringing in my head. When our family of four celebrates, it is loud. Not that we play music on a CD player or whatever, but we tell stories and jokes and speak all at the same time! We like pranking each other, whether child or adult, it doesn’t really matter. We cherish those moments when we gather together to enjoy food and each other’s company. We are used to celebrating on our own, no guests, and it’s really not a lack.

CHRISTMAS BUNDT CAKE. My original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Natalios via IG).

CHRISTMAS BUNDT CAKE. My original watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo by Natalios via IG).

So, as I settled in bed after quite a long night celebrating my husband’s birthday, I only had praises and thanksgiving to God. These thoughts floated on my mind: He fills us to overflowing! Surely, He has filled us up tonight with good things and more than what we deserve.

For those who have not been tried and who have not experienced the pains and bitterness of life, such celebrations and rejoicing are taken for granted. But not for me and my family. We had known how to have nothing but fear and uncertainty and utter sadness when my sickness and suffering prevented us from celebrating. Or even eating a meal together. In our family, these words are more than a verse in the Bible, but a first-hand experience.

 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. (Phil. 4:12)

A villainous voice speaks to my mind, asking how I could possibly say that He fills us to overflowing when everyday, I still go through such difficulties brought by my illness. I still suffer.

But that night that we were drenched with singing and laughter and love, I could only see the goodness of God. I couldn’t focus on the daily hardship I experience, I only saw that our family was happy, period, and wanted to let God know I so appreciated it.

Every morsel of joy I could pick up from under the table, I will thank the Lord from the depths of my heart and soul.

How could I not say my heart overflows when I can eat all the food I want? For there were long seasons when I could only eat a few spoonfuls of runny rice porridge with clear beef broth. Felix savored the beef ribs I baked and ate only them. The Japanese cheesecake (our first-time!), though diminutive, virtually melted in my mouth. The gift I gave to the birthday man, he liked it a lot and he used it right away (I tell you, he’s quite finicky when it comes to his manly things). And the photos we took (there were numerous!) had been kind to me: they didn’t show telltale signs of my illness and suffering, or the warts, or any signs of aging like dark spots.

It’s not really about vanity. It’s about looking and feeling good in the midst of continued illness and hardships. It’s a blessing to look radiant despite the harassment of illness. And I believe it’s all because of Him.

Those who look to him are radiant,
    and their faces shall never be ashamed. (Ps. 34:5 ESV)

Just a few days before my husband’s birthday, I was swiping away tears of sadness. For the longest time, I have desired to be able to travel by land and by air. But it’s not happening. If I’d be downright honest, I get terribly envious when I see friends traveling from place to place. And I can’t even go around our neighborhood. Not spitefully envious. Just pitifully envious. Or sometimes, trying-to-be-indifferent envious.

It was a weekend and Felix and I were in the patio talking. I just received a Viber message from my new artist-friend that she and the whole family were going to New Zealand for the holiday season. New Zealand. You have no idea what those two words mean to me.

Most people dream of traveling to America or Europe. I do, too. But when the kids ask me (which they do every now and then) where I want to go when I’m already well, I often answer, “New Zealand.” Personally, I don’t want to imagine going along with throngs of tourists snaking in and out of famous tourist spots around the world, swarming around a famous edifice or monument or museum. I want to go where the crowd doesn’t choose to go.

Like the countryside of New Zealand, where sheep graze quietly on a rolling meadow that just goes on and on to the horizon. I want to experience the quiet atmosphere of a remote B&B accommodations nestled at the foot of a mountain where there is an unobstructed view of fields and fields of flowers. I will set up my travel brushes and palette and just paint the day away. Then visit quaint shops where they sell artisanal whatever that you can never find in malls.

Whisper: I have a private board on Pinterest labeled, “New Zealand” where I collect all my NZ pins, scenes I want to visit and paint. Someday.

Then my good friend told me she’s going there, not for a few days, but the whole holiday season. I messaged back to remind her to bring her travel brushes and paints and told her that I hoped she would find time to paint. The things I had wanted to do. Then tears started to fall, silently at first. But when Felix asked, I couldn’t help but sob. A little.

There are deep longings in a woman’s heart that one cannot seem to reach and soothe. But surely, there is nothing that the Lord Jesus cannot do something about.

These unmet longings, they can either drive us to be bitter or to be more faithful to God and intentionally see what He is doing in our lives and to be genuinely grateful for it.

It is only when we refuse to focus on the things that He is not doing, and instead gather all the crumbs that fall and are there for the picking, that we can fill up ourselves and not be hungry. Ruth gleaned the few stalks of barley the harvesters dropped as she followed them resolutely. At the end of each hot, back-stiffening day, she brought home an armload of barley. And she and Naomi never went hungry.

Follow Jesus faithfully. Bend down and glean. The Lord will never suffer us to go hungry. May it be spiritual hunger, healing hunger, dream fulfilment hunger, joy hunger, physical hunger … He has them all covered.

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)

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On Trudging, Patience, and Gratitude

Trudging through life. That’s exactly how I feel. Being unable to stand up and walk and move normally, with the constant discomforts brought by acid reflux, uncomfortable breathing, fatigue, weakness, and dizziness, my daily life is far different from the life I used to know more than a decade ago, or the lives of those around me and the people I know. It’s hard. Most days it’s like plowing through knee-deep snow (although I haven’t really tried that yet) or clay, where every single step takes a lot of effort and energy.

WINTER. My watercolor painting of a bird and dried up cherries in winter on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Reference photo by Betty Wiley on Flickr via Pinterest).

WINTER. My watercolor painting of a bird and dried up cherries in winter on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Reference photo by Betty Wiley on Flickr via Pinterest).

So, it’s like that: I trudge through the hours, days, weeks, and months. It’s like going over a hurdle from the last one to the next, heaving a huge sigh of relief and gratitude in between. One school term to the next. That means a three-month worth of homework and tutoring done and over with. One special occasion celebrated – photos taken, singing and laughters rang out, delectable food enjoyed, smiles exchanged, and thank-yous blown out towards heaven – to the next.

One heavy step after another. By faith. In faith.

I can no longer remember the last time that I cruised through life, breezing from one activity to another and waltzing through one celebration to the next.

That is what I see the people around me do. I find it hard to live and move with the rush and exhilaration around me, that’s why I often retreat to my quiet world where lack of strength is welcome and exhaustion finds rest. Hours of quiet, inactivity and recovery tick away with difficulty, but these, too, shall pass. Until the next activity. That and my deep desire to nurture a gentle and quiet spirit, much like Mary’s. With all the excitement around her with the birth of the Savior and the shepherds paying homage, Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19). No stress for Mary!

I hope that I don’t sound like I’m grumbling. I am only trying to explain how it feels like to be me, to trudge through life, and yet, learning the virtue of patience and living grateful at the same time.

True patience is devoid of complaints. That’s why it’s a virtue. It holds the character of a quiet, enduring, and sometimes, sacrificing, spirit. In the KJV Bible, it is called long-suffering and part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:4)

It’s the schoolroom of patience that we become perfect and complete. To run with patience the race that is set before us.

It is through the diligent practice of patience that we overcome, crossing one gulf to the next.

There is no more vivid example of that than in my swimming through the waters of a school term. Every afternoon, I anticipate the arrival of the kids from school. I set aside whatever I am working on, may it be a watercolor painting, working with my laptop, etc., and rest and be ready to welcome the kids. To offer them food when they are hungry, to massage feet when they are sleepy, and most of all, to tackle the homework and lessons. Being a very diligent and conscientious student once, I am the same in tutoring the kids, Tim now, especially. It is a task I don’t want to scrimp on.

You can’t imagine the relief I felt when suddenly – the term is over! And my Tim got straight As. Hallelujah! My trudging has been rewarded, now onto the next. Tim is just in grade 3 now. We have a loooong way to go. But always, we operate with the grace and strength of the Lord with unceasing prayers.

Last Saturday, December 3, we celebrated Tim’s birthday. We only invited 2 of his closest friends from our neighborhood because I can’t entertain people outside of family. I thought that Tim and his friends would just romp around then eat. My mistake. The grandmother of one of the friends came (she is a long time friend of the family), with the baby sister and a nanny in tow. I was in the patio ready to celebrate with the family and I could no longer flee to the sanctuary of my room.

To make the story short, I was able to visit with the granny-friend, took some photos and a video of everybody singing Happy Birthday and Tim blowing the candle on his cake (all of it happened in a whirl, as far as I was concerned, for I was fretting within, being very conscious of exhausting myself). And then had to embarrassingly excuse myself and hastily escape to my room because I couldn’t hold off the dizziness and exhaustion any longer. I was so embarrassed to ride in my wheelchair in front of them all but I didn’t have any choice. That’s what I had been avoiding to happen, that’s why I don’t open our doors to visitors. The nanny was openly staring at me like I was from another planet. Ugh!

But before the evening was over, (for Ate Irene, my neighbor-friend, followed me later to the bedroom where I was resting), I was able to sell her my entire 4-piece original IRIS painting collection, on 12″ x 16″!

I was fatigued but the night had its own rewards. I could forget about the stares when I had to hastily leave in my wheelchair. I only needed to focus on the good part: I was able to visit with a long-time neighbor and see her admire my paintings to the extent that she couldn’t almost make up her mind what to get. That makes me feel appreciated and it somewhat validates my work and gives me a feeling of fulfilment. All for the glory of my Father in heaven!

At the end of a long, tiring day, gratefulness is what is really needed. A grateful heart soothes and smoothes out stresses. It sorts out the lovely from the ugly and focuses and holds onto that. It brings back our perspective to look unto Jesus for He is our comfort and rest.

Gratefulness conveys us to another day, to rise up and welcome the new morning with hope and great expectations. For miracles happen everyday. Just be on the lookout for them.

It is of the Lord‘s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

24 The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. (Lam. 3:22-24)

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Finding Life

A Facebook friend commented after I posted photos of In-Cosmetics Asia 2016 held in Bangkok, Thailand, which my husband attended, “You must miss it!” She was referring, of course, to the life I lived before in the world of cosmetic ingredients – glamorous and exciting. And I burst out what I had been hiding in my heart these many years, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks, “I super miss it. Sometimes I still feel a painful pinch in my heart when I see photos like this.” That was a portion of my reply.

"GRAPEVINE". My watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper.

“GRAPEVINE”. My watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper.

Later, I thought about the exchange and examined it. Was I really still longing for that old life? Do I still want to go back to it? The answer I got was “No”. I feel a longing when I see photos of the world I used to inhabit, not because I am desiring to go back to it, but because I know the happiness and thrill it brought.

How can one go back to a life in the distant past (13 years) when one is a new person?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

It’s like putting a new wine to old wineskins which the Lord Jesus Himself spoke of.

Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved. (Mat. 9:17)

I have always wrestled with this verse. What is the Lord talking about? But now I get a glimpse of it: A new wine like myself cannot thrive in the old life I used to live, the old wineskin, for after 13 years of walking closely with the Lord, I no longer know how to walk otherwise. Not that that world would be ruined because of the new me, but because I cannot be unequally yoked with it after the Lord has called me for His purposes. I can go, when all this sickness is over, not to work, but to tell of the wondrous salvation from the Lord. To win souls.

But why the longing? Somewhere in the deep recesses of my heart is this wish: I wish that I had known the Lord Jesus while I was at the peak of my career, that I had surrendered my life to Him even then. Maybe then, I wouldn’t have been taken out of it.

If I had known the Lord then and walked in His ways and didn’t make the bad decisions that I made, would I still be there today, working, healthy and strong?

But the saddest thing is – that wasn’t the case. That wasn’t my life. I was successful by the world’s standards, living my dreams, but l was dead in the eyes of God. Let the dead bury their dead.

How deplorable it is to think that there are many people in the world who put up multimillion businesses and have stellar careers, but do not know how to really live.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:4)

No matter how much we deny it – we do not know how to live apart from Christ.

I knew how to live by the world’s standards – competition,  excellence, devising, etc. But with the way I led my personal life – important relationships like marriage and family, and most of all, a right relationship with the Savior – I was the biggest fool. In business, I made the wisest decisions. But in private life, I acted like I had no brains at all.

I didn’t live in virtue; I lived in selfishness. I was just one of millions who walk this earth in selfishness. The world needs a Savior, and indeed, He has come.

That’s why now, I have life. I live. Because of Him. Now, I can honestly echo the apostle Paul’s words:

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him… (Phil. 3:8-9, emphasis added)

This is what it means when the Lord said to lose our lives. Yes, to lose that life that is not really life but death, and to trade it with the life we find in Him. That is the true life. Everlasting life.

He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it. (Mat. 10:39)

This is pure wisdom: To be willing to lose the life that we adore so much and to find ourselves in Him.

It will be hard for some. They will look back with longing of the life they left behind every now and then. Like me. But not to take the first step to go back to it, but to be able to appreciate how much the Lord Jesus had to give to give us life.

A life that will not cease long after this world has.

This is the life Jesus gives. But many of us are not willing to take it. We want to remain as blinds and fools, not knowing what matters most. We only see the pleasures and thrills the world offers; we cannot see the other side, the side where the King of kings reside. Life and glory forevermore.

But even as we live in the Lord, sometimes we still act foolish and make foolish decisions the same way as the world does. Where has wisdom gone?

For whoever finds me finds life,
And obtains favor from the Lord. (Prod. 8:35)

Sometimes we dwell in coldness and lovelessness. In anger and unkindness. In selfishness. We respond harshly to criticisms that are supposed to help, correct, and improve us. We devour each other even as we call on the name of the Lord and carry His name. Christians.

Yes, sometimes we do not know how to really live, even if the Lord has already shown us how to. He is the way, the truth, and the life. Sometimes we act as if we do not know Him.

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Mic. 6:8)

Oh, man! (Put a crying emoji here). What does the Lord require of us?

Do justly.

Love mercy.

Walk humbly with God.

Do we trample each other and grind each other with our unmerciful words? But didn’t you know, oh man, that —

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,
Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones. (Prod. 16:24)

Our words should bring life and healing!

The letter addressed to the church in Sardis should serve as a warning and reminder:

I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. (Rev. 3:1-2, emphasis added)

Life in the Lord must be fruitful, not barren. 

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A Palace Strong and Full of Light

A palace strong and full of light. I love this power-packed combination. I pray that my writing of this will be fruitful for you and me. I had written about each topic before, A House Divided Against Itself and All Light {Lessons from the Mount Part 2}. Why am I writing this again? Because I passed through Luke 11 just recently, this time with my KJV journaling Bible, and aside from the fact that I am slowed down by pondering deeper and writing down the Holy Spirit’s message, the passage spoke to me afresh at a different angle this time. The Scriptures does that to us, doesn’t it?

"STONEHOUSE", my original watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper. (Inspiration: photo from IG).

“STONEHOUSE”, my original watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper. (Inspiration: photo from IG).

In the many years of my illness, every time I open my Bible, I am always on the lookout for how God’s Word will speak to me in the light of my sickness and suffering. I strain to dig deep and scratch about the words, verses, and passages, like a hen scraping the earth for bits of food, to look for doors through which I can pass to the other side. The side of healing. And thanks be to God, for I believe that, through the years, I have been fruitful in that regard. Although I have not yet received complete healing, I have had enough strength, hope, peace, and joy to go through it all. For that length of time.

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace.22 But when a stronger than he comes upon him and overcomes him, he takes from him all his armor in which he trusted, and divides his spoils. (Luke 11:21-22)

I received another epiphany as I read this recently. We are strong and fully armed when we are at peace with God and constantly filled with the Holy Spirit. For when we are full of the Spirit of God, we walk after Him and not after the flesh. And when we walk after Him, we don the whole armor of God and are protected by it from the fiery darts of the devil. We cannot put on the whole armor of God when we don’t walk in step with the Holy Spirit no matter how hard we try. For it is the Holy Spirit that teaches, guides, and empowers us to do those things that God would have us do:

fasten the belt of truth

put on the breastplate of righteousness

shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace

take up the shield of faith

put on the helmet of salvation

take the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God

pray at all times in the Spirit

(from Ephesians 6)

We can only behave wisely in a perfect way and walk within our house with a perfect heart as David himself had greatly desired (Ps. 101:2) when we follow closely after the Spirit. It would be next to impossible to live in love from a pure heart without the Spirit of God continuously sanctifying us.

The passage above further says that when we guard our own palaces, that is, our bodies, the temple of the living God, our goods are in peace. More than our material possessions, these goods mean our joy, peace, family, important relationships, work, businesses, even dreams. And of course, our health.

I have always believed that because of my sins and the bad decisions I had made before I received salvation, my health and strength were stolen by the devil, and with them, my joy and peace. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy… (part of John 10:10). But now that I am in the Lord Jesus Christ, why am I still ailing?

That, for me, is the question of the century :) .

But the peace, joy, marriage, and family that had been stolen were all restored. These goods I now have in abundance. And other good and perfect gifts I have, which I received from my Savior. So, there’s truly been a different kind of healing for me.

When I was yet of the world, there had not been a strong man guarding my palace to talk about. The devil was a lot stronger than me, that’s why he came and spoiled all my goods, even to the point of death. But even that the Lord has utilized for good. It turned out to my salvation and my clinging to Him tightly to this hour.

But even when we are already of the Lord, there are times we can still be weak against the attacker. That is, when we put our guard down. Weaknesses come in. Fears and unprofitable feelings like discouragement, self-pity, depression, resentments, anger, unforgiveness, joylessness, hopelessness grip us and seem to triumph over us. And yes, even our health becomes poor.

Why? Because we have made the attacker stronger than us. We have become weak against him because we have been divided against ourselves. How so? When we have been beholding the world instead of the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we behold the world most of the time, our mindset and affections are influenced by it. And when we are influenced by the world and not by the Word, the Holy Spirit grieves. And when He does, all manner of problems attack us on every side.

That’s why the Apostle Peter admonishes us to:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)

I think that is the root of our problems: when we look back to the world instead of ahead of us where our Shepherd leads. In the world there is endless lusts, covetousness, envying, materialism, superfluity. The Lord Jesus warned:

“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62)

A united palace is a strong palace. A united body is a strong body.

If we focus our eyes on only one thing – JESUS – our eyes are good and we will be full of light. What wonder!

“The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. 35 Therefore take heed that the light which is in you is not darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, the whole body will be full of light, as when the bright shining of a lamp gives you light.” (Luke 11:34-36)

When we behold what is bad – the world (the whole world lies in wickedness ~ 1 John 5:19) – our body also is full of darkness!

When our bodies are full of light, where will darkness dwell? All traces of darkness will flee! We are strong  – mind, heart, body, and soul – and shining brightly!

“Be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning.” (Luke 12:35 ESV)

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Journey with Jesus,

Redeeming the Time

In Ephesians 5:15-17, the apostle Paul tells us to redeem the time:

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

We were given the reason why we must redeem the time – the days are evil – and how we go about it: walk circumspectly and wisely and understanding the will of God. When we think of “redeeming the time”, we usually think of the bigger picture: our service to God. Well, for me anyway. That is, until something happened at home that brought me to this.

What exactly is “redeem”? I like what Google gave when I searched for its definition.

redeem: compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something); do something that compensates for poor past performance or behavior.

As I’ve mentioned above, up to this time, I saw “redeeming the time” as more of the task of a Christ laborer, especially those who preach the Gospel and win souls everywhere. To not waste time in spreading the Gospel of salvation as it is the only way to fight these evil days, pushing back the darkness and its works. But when we see it only this way, we tend to think that we, as housewives and stay-at-home moms or full-time career or business people, are not really called to this.

But I received an epiphany today that practicing “redeeming the time” in our marriages, families, and homes is a beautiful moment-by-moment, day-to-day undertaking. It is living a life that is full of grace.

I, with my ailing self, derive strength from the love, peace, and joy that our home and family bring, but most of all, of course, from my faith in God. Each day, however hard it is for me physically, I am renewed, strengthened, and inspired to pursue and live life to the Christ-fullest. That desire alone keeps me awake at night pondering and keeps me on my toes throughout the day. I have that deep desire to truly live out the Lord Jesus’ words and not only a lip service or going through the motions. It is my way of loving Him wholly and honoring Him in my life. A continuous, daily worship.

At the bottom of all this is my belief that being pleasing and right with God is what gives me life and continuance.

…the joy of the Lord is [my] strength. ( Part of Neh. 8:10)

But my heart’s desires and my attempts at living them are affected by my circumstances and the people I do life with. Mistakes, blunders, failures are bound to happen. The aim to walk the higher ground and foster a better relationship with someone for instance, could shatter in a moment’s weakness. Disagreements arise, even a word war or silent war or cold war! In a moment’s time, we could say the wrong word, words that stir up anger or hurt. But this is the good part: we need not stay there! After the words are spoken, the tears are shed, or maybe the door has been shut, or the back has been turned – it is not really the end. It must not be the end.

That is the beauty of grace. We can partake of it as often and as much as we want to. That is the inconsumable grace of Lamentations 3: 22-23:

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

We are given new mercies every morning. Every morning we are renewed, reinstated, and reaffirmed. And if our gracious and merciful Father does it to us every morning, can’t we do the same to each other? Can’t we renew, reinstate, and reaffirm one another in each other’s love, joy, and peace?

Can’t we redeem what we have foolishly squandered?

Are we better at squandering or redeeming?

Do we squander the new day and the new mercies given to us because we are hard-hearted like that? Do we squander them by giving in to our unprofitable emotions: anger, resentment, bitterness, coldness?

No. We redeem each and every moment and every day with new mercies as the Lord supplies us! We redeem the ugliness, the mistakes, the failures with fresh grace.

… Freely [we] have received, freely give. (Part of Mat. 10:8)

We redeem the squandered moments with fresh dose of forgiveness and love and we gather again peace and joy unto our bosom and rejoice together in the Lord. A life of grace is where we thrive, like fish to water, plants to rich soil.

To redeem is to gather again and not to scatter.

Because we walk after the Holy Spirit and live by its fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – tarrying in that place outside of its borders will not be good for us and our health. It’s like fish out of water.

I have a fragile health and I can’t afford to squander my days. I don’t have the luxury of endless days. On earth, at least. That is true for all of us. A stanza of the song You Are My World is a great reminder:

And all my days are gifts from You
I pray I’d use them as You want me to
Use them for You.

Our beloved pastor advises to live each day as if it were the day the Lord Jesus comes. Watching. Praying. Loving. Giving grace and mercy. Rejoicing. Living in peace and joy. Wasting nothing.

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Journey with Jesus,