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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Learning to Live the Life We’ve Been Given

I believe that following the Lord Jesus Christ almost always involves a major detour in life. We hear the Holy Spirit speaking to our hearts, through the Word, in our prayers, and in worship. And until we surrender to His will, there is a strain that is hard to bear.

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Years ago, although I was still waiting for healing, I didn’t want to completely give up my work in the company that I had established. I was looking forward to the day that I would fully recover and go back to the work I so loved doing. But I could feel the strain my resistance was causing. I wasn’t winning in that regard. Eventually, I relinquished all control of my life and future to God and vowed not to return to my work even when He has healed me. The Lord gave all leadership and management of our cosmetic ingredients company to my mechanical engineer husband. Even he experienced a “culture shock” with the change of his occupation: from engineering and maintenance management of a large food manufacturing company to the Cosmetics Industry. But he willingly and gladly obeyed God’s call. This was the detour of our life.

Since then, we have been learning to live this life the Lord has given us. But more so for me.

In previous posts, I wrote about being healed of all negative, unprofitable emotions (mostly and subconsciously directed towards God) I now call the “horrible bundle”. But it turned out that there are still remnants of them in my heart, this time, the ones that are directed towards others.

I needed to go to the IG page of a “celebrity mom” to get her source of seedlings for our kitchen garden. Back when I still visited her IG regularly, she usually posted photos of them planting and harvesting from their backyard garden. I was hesitant to go back and have a look again since the main reason I stopped visiting was that, my feelings of envy were the more kindled every time I see their photos depicting the full, perfect life.

But I wanted to get their source of seedlings and other gardening materials, so off I went. And again, I couldn’t help but marvel at the wonderful life this family is living: both the parents have exciting, fulfilling careers that bring them to beautiful places from time to time; they run marathons (hence, perfect health and fit bodies); they eat homegrown vegetables; they grow their own vegetables and some fruits; they laugh. They live and flourish. And yes, they are a Christian family.

I marvel each time at how different our lives are.

So, I got my source of seedlings but I also went away pondering deeply. Again. I was careful not to slide back to the “horrible bundle”, but the things I saw made me pause and think: Shall I question God again? No, I don’t even want to go there.

In addition to this, I remembered what Felix told me: a wealthy family from church is going to the spiritual, revival crusade in San Jose, California – everyone down to the grandchildren. We would have loved to go also, but we can’t because I am sick. Has been for the last more than 13 years.

I spent the rest of the day seeking wisdom. If only I were wise enough (a sage perhaps) to live the life I have, maybe I wouldn’t feel like this – was somewhat the theme of my thoughts and feelings through the afternoon. How do you live a life that has an important aspect of it which you hate but can’t do anything about?

How do you live it without trying to compare and not feel envious, dissatisfied, dismayed, discontented? Those latter emotions are brought about by the practice of comparing. Why do I compare? Why can’t I help it? Maybe because I grew up competitive. If you love competition (not athletics for me), comparison is its companion and envy is their begotten child. I hate the whole bunch of them. But I found out that afternoon that I am still their prisoner.

In the evening, I found myself writing feverishly on my prayer journal begging God to liberate me from them. To say that I need His help is an understatement. If I feel vulnerable every time and my peace and contentment are easily shaken and so fragile that they easily dissolve with the things I see, then there is a need for me to learn to live this life God has given me. To learn to live it gladly, contentedly, gratefully, without feeling envious or jealous of others. It would be the biggest challenge in my faith life yet. I desperately want to do that, for to live otherwise is not really living at all. A life that is steeped in envious feelings is a life of misery.

The days that followed saw me studying life and faith and the kingdom of God and how they must be lived in a way that they would bring purpose, meaning, and fulfilment in spite of illness and suffering. This is what I was able to grasp:

This is the life we’re given now. We may dream and hope and pray for a better, brighter future, but our present lives must be lived here, now. And when it is lived, it must not be lived half-heartedly, but with everything we’ve got. We cannot postpone life. We cannot postpone joy to sometime in the future when healing (or answer to fervent prayer) and joy could be had.

For me, that still means deep longings along the journey. Longings to travel with family – to see the beach, to enjoy outdoors life together without sickness. Longings. They are often painful, but I believe that to try to expunge them would be impossible in the first place, so why even try? I am trading the “horrible bundle” with envy, comparison, and competition thrown in, but I am keeping the longings. The longings are what makes me human, alive, with a beating heart. Longings are what brings me to my knees and makes me utter prayers only the Spirit understands.

So, to tackle the gritty part: How do I learn to not compare? Honestly, I do not know yet. But I’ll keep on praying.

After Joni Eareckson Tada had her diving accident which left her a quad, she wrote that to compare her life to others would be an emotional suicide. Perfectly said. So, she learned not to look and compare but to fully depend on Jesus. Easier said than done. I know even for her who has grown to be wise, Christ-wise.

But this is what I will do: To make other people’s beautiful lives inspire and encourage me to do the best I can with what I’ve been given, instead of letting them drive me to envy and self-pity. To remember that a life is most meaningful when lived for God. Faithfully. Everyday.

Let’s then fill our lives and days with things that impact eternity and not the world.

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