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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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 Gift of Joy and Happiness

I have been flooded with joy and happiness lately, the kind which stays with you and makes you alive and eager with expectation even though you’re still ailing and weak. I stopped and considered, then I understood: this joy and happiness is the fruit of my healing from my horrible bundle that had gripped me for so long. Again I say, we may think that our relationship with God is fine and smooth sailing (because, well, we continue to do those things that we do for Him), but underneath, really, really deep down in our heart and soul – there might be something that needs healing. There might be deep-seated resentments or rebellion or cynicism that needs to be excavated and examined. And when they are out in the open, when they are on our palm humbly offering them to the Savior, wholeness will come. As it came to me.

These flowers are quite unfinished but that's as far as I could go for I am suffering from a very painful and stiff back right now. But I'm happy with how it turned out, painting those pistils gold instead of green :) .

These flowers are quite unfinished but that’s as far as I could go for I am suffering from a very painful and stiff back right now. But I’m happy with how it turned out, painting those pistils gold instead of green :) .

Just to be able to feel happy, joyously happy, amid illness and suffering, is a tremendous blessing in itself. For I had known despair on a daily basis for years.

But I have a confession to make: when really good things happen and they continue, fears and doubts lurk in my heart. I have questions like, Is this really happening to me? Will there be disappointments or pain or punishment at the end? Will something bad happen in return? Do I deserve this? Am I not one who has been chastised time and time again? The one who suffers, left behind, not given the chance to go places with family and enjoy?

I am not sharing these lightly, but as in a whisper, like a fearful and doubting child to her mama. Like I am confiding to an elder who may understand (tears). I told my husband this and tears flowed from my eyes.

I know Jesus, through His Word, His works, powerful testimonies, His amazing grace I have received, and His tender mercies that see me through the day. But I also know God who chastises, who may choose not to hear, whose hand maybe heavy upon me through the day everyday. I know the God who elicits so much fear in me I cower (crying).

I have been asking silently, “Could it be that I am like a child traumatized by her abusive daddy?” If a child has been beaten by his daddy everyday for years, then one day, he treats him kindly, giving him gifts – wouldn’t the child be doubtful and fearful?

I do not say, neither do I believe, that God, my heavenly Father, is an abusive Father. He is most certainly not. But I tend to connect my years of sickness and suffering to His — severity? There were countless times when I begged Him to heal me and take away my suffering but received exactly the opposite, as if He had not been listening, just as there had been many times that He did deliver me and showed me His great compassion.

But the years of suffering, of knowing and experiencing an almost indescribable kind of physical beating brought by illnesses that even doctors couldn’t diagnose, could traumatize anyone, even one who is deeply immersed in Christ.

No, I do not have resentments for God left in my heart. There is only love, that’s why I know He has healed my heart and made me whole, even as sickness and suffering continues.

This fear and doubt that come to me when good things happen, when blessings flow, when peace, joy, and happiness are mine to hold – they are from the devil. I need to understand that. I need to learn that truth and re-learn it again … and again. That’s how I ease them out of my life. They are lies, lies to steal away this joy my faithful Father is giving me.

You may want to know the happenings in my life and in my small world lately that have brought me joy and happiness. But first, what’s the difference between the two? Why do I get the feeling that Christians must have joy and not happiness? And so, they must use “joy” in their writings more than “happy”. In my own understanding, joy is like a bubbling brook deep, deep inside our heart and soul. Unstoppable. Interminable. Indestructible. And so, joy, true joy, can only come from the Lord Jesus Christ. Joy stays. Joy can live through suffering. Joy may not die, but only in the Lord.

And happiness? Happiness feels good, like sharing an ice cream cone with a friend you like best under a shady tree on a hot summer day when the sun is shining brightly and there are no chores to think about. I like happy. I can think of a thousand ways happy could be held. But happy doesn’t stay long. It dies. It ends. It leaves. It flies away. The ice cream melts. The sun goes down. Chores call. The friend leaves. Still, you remember the happy moment and it brings warmth into your heart and smile on your lips.

It’s like this —

Joy is the eternal flame while happiness is the sparks that fly and then disappear.

But however you look at it, joy and happiness are gifts of God. They are blessings from a good, good Father.

The blessing of the Lord makes one rich, And He adds no sorrow with it. (Prov. 10:22)

Joy and happiness for me is to be able to enjoy my everyday and not giving illness and suffering the upper hand. Sickness and suffering are bullies and suckers, but the Lord – He brings joy and happiness. Praise Him!

There is this small Italian dining table and chairs that I saw on a local IG seller’s post that was for sale and immediately, I was drawn to it. I could see myself using it and really enjoy eating at it.

We have a long formal dining table and Queen Anne chairs but we don’t use them everyday. In fact, we only use them during Christmas and sometimes, birthdays, but only for the few family guests that come. Never me. I never ate at that dining table but once during the past 14 years. It felt uninviting and uncomfortable for me and my wheelchair. And so, I never got near it.

When we have special occasions, I eat on the sofa in the living room or in the bedroom. We have a mobile table stationed in our bedroom and that is where our family eats everyday. It’s just a 40″ x 25″ rectangular table but it has seen many days and years of our lives.

To make the story short, we bought the Italian dining table and its three chairs. Yes, there were only three. The seller said she got it from an auction and she had no idea what happened to the fourth chair. While I was staring at the photo, it dawned on me that there were only three chairs because the fourth one is my wheelchair. It’s quite far-fetched but it added to my kinship with it.

On Father’s Day, we ate there and I marvelled at God’s blessing. Hallelujah!

This is that oval dining table with only three chairs. It's quite small but really cute, don't you think so?

This is that oval dining table with only three chairs. It’s quite small but really cute, don’t you think so?

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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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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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Home 2

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

home 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Draw Near

The poem I wrote (below) on Friday last pretty much sums up the theme of my life right now. Though there are still deep desires and longings in my heart that make my soul sad and burdened, I am falling into the practice of drawing ever nearer to God through each day, in worship, in song, in prayer, in writing, through the Word, and in my thoughts. If the Bible says that when we draw near to God, He draws near to us (see James 4:8), then it is a promise that I would like to claim. We just need to be intentional and diligent about it. Whether we are drawn in our fervent love and devotion to Him or in our desperation, we do it and that is a good thing. But when it comes down to it, it is really the Lord Jesus’ love stirring us to draw near.

…Then I will cause [her] to draw near,
And [she] shall approach Me… (From Jer. 30:21)

The latter part of the poem speaks about my testimony of what happened two Sundays ago during worship service.

draw near

Draw Near



If we walk in the light
Where God abides
We have fellowship with Him
And the blood of Christ
Cleanses us from all sin...

Then why don't we draw near
As often as Love leans in?

If by His life
We receive our own
A new heart, new creation
If in Him
We are made righteous
Sanctified, forgiven...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love calls?

If we come to Him
He promises rest
From all our labors and heavy weights
His yoke will be easy 
And His burden light...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love invites?

If we run to the well
He meets us there
He makes us to drink
His living water
We'll never again thirst 
In this life
And even forever...

Then why don't we draw near
As often as Love whispers?

If in His throne of grace
We'll find mercy
In time of great need
If from His hand 
All blessings flow
Abundant, unhindered...
Then why don't we draw near
As often as Love stirs?

If at His feet
We can cast all sorrows and cares
And know that He knows
Every grief, every burden
Upon our shoulders
And hears all our prayers...

Then why don't we draw near
As often as Love remembers?

If at the cross
Salvation flows
Healing is ours 
Through the stripes
That He bore...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love pulls?

If in our praises
He comes down
And sits upon the throne
Of our hearts' hymns and songs
Rejoices over us
Turns our mourning into dance...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love rings out?

If in His presence
There is fullness of joy
Sorrows are soothed
As in the Lord we rejoice
Hurts are forgotten
As His face we behold...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love unfolds?

In just one song
Drawn from the soul
My heart opened wide
And my spirit soared
Fear had no place
In His glorious praise
There is only grace 
All-abounding grace!

I raised my hands
Wanting to be lifted up
To that place where He dwells
Where there is only light.

Love, overwhelming love
Gripped me like a whirlwind
All doubts and struggles
Flew away and fled
His presence is power
There is like no other.

Eyes tightly closed
I found myself under
The cross of Christ
And I wondered
Beheld His brokenness
Speaking to me 
"Child, because of this, 
You are healed."

Blood poured out 
Upon my upturned face
As I received 
Every drop
Of this precious blood
By which I am saved.

Tears trickled down
As a keening cry broke out
From the depths of my soul 
For I knew not
What to say or pray for
But the Spirit of God
Interceded on my behalf.

Draw near to God
As often as Love resounds.

~ Rina R. Peru

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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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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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Remember Grace

One late at night last week while Felix was away in the province and I was alone in our room, the enemy attacked all of a sudden. It started with labored breathing, then my insides shook like when you feel really cold. But my two layers of blanket couldn’t reach to the core of my body to warm it. The shaking and weakness spread to my legs until they seemed lifeless. The twitching muscles made them limp. I wanted to just curl up and let the strange suffering pass, but I couldn’t do that either. I tried to vomit to relieve me, but the shaking inside continued, from my belly, sides, and up to my abdomen. While sitting up, I raised my hand and prayed and begged God to heal me and relieve me of what I was experiencing, then I cast out the demons of illness that were attacking me. I was becoming scared. I lay back on my pillows, put my Bible under me, turned off the aircon (although the room wasn’t that cold), covered myself with my blankets, then forced myself to lie still in a prone position. My heart was beating fast which was making me feel exhausted. There was nothing more I could do but to wait for the mercy of God.

TULIPS IN BLUE AND WHITE VASE. My watercolor painting on 9" x 12" wc paper.

TULIPS IN BLUE AND WHITE VASE. My watercolor painting on 9″ x 12″ wc paper.

This kind of suffering, in all of its forms and insidiousness, has been a part of my life these past 13 years. There are times I wanted to wave my fist at it, at the unseen demons lurking in space, and challenge them to battle, but what good would that do? I want to pound the demons of illness and suffering to pieces, if only I could see what I am up against. This suffering, it leaves a bad and bitter taste in my mouth that I want to spew out once and for all. If only spitting it out would do the trick.

(My scary experience that night reenforced my perseverance in casting out demons of sickness and suffering in full faith and power and authority in Jesus’ name and not to grow faint and give in to the devil’s wishes).

That night, after waiting out for the shaking to stop and for my insides to settle and my heart to beat normally, it finally came after more than half an hour or so. My heart gradually returned to its normal beating and I felt my whole body warm up. The feeling was almost heavenly and I was lulled to sleep because of the warmth and exhaustion.

There had been such episodes of warmth and peace before, healing moments I call them, when the relief from suffering felt like I was being lifted up from the bed and rocked gently in the clouds to sleep. I remembered them then before I succumbed to a peaceful slumber.

In the morning when I woke up, I remembered the suffering of the night before. In my mind, I gave form to the subconscious thoughts that have always plagued me these many years of suffering so much.

Does God really love me? If He does, why does He let me suffer so much and this long? Is He always angry at me? Unfavorable? Displeased? Why does He punish me so severely and would not relent?

But even as I entertained these bitter thoughts, wisdom was squeezing itself hard into the forefront of my brain, wanting to be heard.

Does not wisdom cry out,
And understanding lift up her voice? (Prov. 8:1)

I listened to wisdom and truth enveloped my whole being.

It is not God who is making me suffer. God isn’t my enemy, the devil is. God, who loves me with an everlasting love, will not do that to me, will not punish me until I am crying out for mercy. He doesn’t take pleasure in inflicting me pain. The devil does.

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. (Ps. 103:8)

I took hold of the truth even as it took hold of me. I sat up and raised my hands toward heaven and said,

Father in heaven, in Your name my dearest Lord Jesus Christ. You are a merciful God, compassionate and full of grace. You loved me even when I was a sinner and unworthy of Your love. You cared for me so much You poured out Your love and life on Calvary. You saved me from hell because I matter to You. It is not You who are making me suffer for You are good and faithful to me.

I remember Your grace poured out upon me and I know You love me.

After the storm, the birds come out of hiding to sing. They don’t wave their fists toward heaven and rant why their nests fell to the ground and their young left pitifully as the storm battered and buffeted them. The flowers open up towards the sun slowly emerging out of the parting clouds, greeting the world and their Creator with their radiant faces.

Humans lament and complain.

Remember grace.

Grace poured out upon us beyond measure, more than 2000 years ago, even before Calvary. On a holy, chilly night in the hill country.

10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:10-14, emphasis added)

good tidings of great joy

peace

goodwill to all men

They all spell G-R-A-C-E.

The spouse, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker hurt you and made you cry because of his/her ill treatment of you? Cry some. Pray big. Fully forgive. Remember grace.

Grace received, grace given away.

Where sin abounds, grace abounds much more (see Rom. 5:20).

Grace is the channel through which all God’s blessings flow.

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