A Mary Heart

I’m talking about Mary of Bethany, of course, the sister of the ever-efficient homemaker Martha, friends of the Lord Jesus. Mary, the sitter at Jesus’ feet and the enrapt listener. Lately, my soul has been crying out to go sit where Mary sat, that place where you’re so close to the Savior you could touch His toes. The place where you won’t miss a single word He speaks. My soul desires to occupy that space more often and longer. An intentional running to the well to drink of Him, for my mind has been pulled in many directions lately and even my heart has been following suit, and I am not used to it.

I apologize that I haven't been giving my best in painting the blog themes lately. Sometimes I'm in a hurry and this is the result :( . But I posted a few of my finished painting projects below. I hope you like them.

I apologize that I haven’t been giving my best in painting the blog themes lately. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and this is the result :( . But I posted a few of my finished painting projects below. I hope you like them.

I remember the years when all I could do was sit quietly in my high-back swivel chair and listen to praise music and pray, a pure communion with God without distractions. This was my rest. But things have changed. That chair has long been gone and I have moved forward from being sedentary surrounded by quiet to doing things that I am inspired to do. These changes, though welcome, have a price to pay. My rest, true rest in the Lord, is compromised.

Two nights ago during prayer, I asked the Lord what it means by sitting at His feet, just what Mary had done, when He’s not actually in my living room. But seriously, I try to do that through prayer, Bible and devotional reading, writing on my prayer and gratitude journals, and listening to praise. Although I can’t vocalize, I do my best to worship just by listening to praise songs. I believe these all make us sit, be still and glued to that spot at Jesus’ feet. But even if we are there and not in the kitchen where the busy Martha is, we could still lose the moment if our hearts and minds are not there with us. If they are distracted by the myriad things we should be helping Martha with. Or if there is no Martha in our life and we must do all the worrying and bustling.

I got my answer during one of those necessary bodily rests, eyes tightly closed while painfully waiting out for relief: sitting at Jesus’ feet is not only doing those things – prayer, Bible reading, praise, etc. – but also to listen to His voice. To let our hearts and minds keep still and listen, listen closely. Then behold His face, behold His beauty and majesty, in our spirit. That can easily be attained during worship when one is singing with one’s all. But for the weak like me who doesn’t have enough strength to belt out a song, we need to exert more effort. And by that I mean, to keep still and focus and not be distracted by anything, especially by wandering thoughts.

And in our keeping still and thinking on the Lord and talking with Him, whispering our praises, thanksgiving, and prayers, we must delight in Him. That’s how we behold Him whom we cannot see: we let our spirit delight in Him so that we are lifted up and praises pour out spontaneously from our hearts and lips. This communing with God should not stay at the periphery of our heart and spirit, but it should touch our very core. It should ignite our love.

For it is not the mere acts of reading the Bible, praying, praising, but our hearts wholly given to Him. Our whole being loving God. Enamored with Him, like a bride with her bridegroom. It is our love that is the measure of our life given to Him, not merely the things we do.  

Ownership by God or sonship/daughtership is not proven alone by our actions, but the heart that does them, these things a product of a heart wholly given to Him. For we can go through the motions but without a love that burns for Him. It is this active love that makes us one with our Savior and Lord. For —

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…

Though I have the gift ofprophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…

And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains…

But have not love…

I am nothing. 

(From 1 Cor. 13)

I am not a Mary by nature. I am wired like Martha – efficient, perfectionist, OC. But God changed all that when I fell ill and became dependent on His mercy, every moment of every day. In my deep need, I learned to run to Him and slump my sick and weak body at His feet and wait for His mercy. I run to Him for bodily relief, for that deep peace in the mind and soul, for strength, for encouragement, for comfort, for love. This world and the people in it are bound to hurt us, bring us down, make us cry, disappoint and discourage us. The Lord Jesus Christ – He is my sanctuary, my safe haven from all these. And so I run to Him.

I have developed a Mary heart as far as my relationship with the Lord Jesus is concerned, but still keep a Martha disposition when it comes to homemaking.

Ailing and weak as I am, the threads of my moments and days are woven by prayer, by clinging to Him in prayer, even with those whispered, urgent ones that are interspersed within those hard times of suffering. I am able to gather together a day because every minute of it is sewn one after the other by the incremental mercies of God. From mercy to mercy. From strength to strength. From day to day.

So, I want to fight for that quiet time at Jesus’ feet no matter how much my thoughts and affections are pulled in the opposite direction. I want to to be assured that I am kept in the love of God and I can only know that when I abide in Him and His words abide in me. To do that one thing that’s really needed, and choose that good part, which will not be taken away from me.

And Jesus[ answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

I am so blessed to have found this beautiful song about this very theme, “I Miss My Time With You”. I pray it will bless you, too.

My latest completed painting projects:

SIMPLICITY 2

SIMPLICITY 2 on 9″ x 12″

 

PLUMERIA AND A PIECE OF BLUE on 12" x 16"

PLUMERIA AND A PIECE OF BLUE on 12″ x 16″

 

RADIANCE on 12" x 16"

RADIANCE on 12″ x 16″

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Putting Meaning and Purpose Into (Hard) Life

The theme for Hannah’s Junior High Dance this year is 90s fashion. I thought that it would be easier to just buy fabric and send it to our dressmaker rather than browsing online or sending the husband and daughter to look for 90s cocktail dress in the malls. I graduated from college at the turn of the 90s decade and wore a very shiny black and silver dress with puffy sleeves. My mother borrowed it from our neighbor whose daughter then worked in Japan as an entertainer. But then, Hannah’s dress requirements excluded dark colors and only allowed pastel ones. Since my daughter is endowed with the Filipino brown skin like a perfectly toasted bread (well, not quite), we had limited choices. We settled for a very light peach satin fabric which Felix bought at our favorite shop, Carolina’s House of Lace.

I used metallic gold and other metallic paints in painting this rose.

I used metallic gold and other metallic paints in painting this rose.

It’s also a good thing that Hannah’s school, although one of the few fine international schools in the country, is a school that doesn’t promote luxury or sexy dresses for its students, two things that we ourselves avoid like the plague, being Christians. Also, in keeping with a modest and simple Christian life, it is already a given that I will not commission an expensive fashion designer, or dressmaker for that matter, to make my daughter’s dress. So, as usual, the fabric was sent to a sister in Christ who also happens to be a humble dressmaker.

When the dress was finished though, it looked too simple and unattractive. It was just plain peach all over, like pale lips. Even Hannah, whose taste is really simple and who doesn’t have a fashionista bone in her body, found it plain and boring. But rather than toss it away and buy one from the mall, I thought of ways of embellishing it. At dawn the next day, I had my solution. Before the day ended, Felix had gone back to Carolina’s to buy a lovely appliqué. And because it was my idea and there was no other who could do it, I took in the task of laborious needlework.

Now you have to understand that my illness makes me constantly dizzy and there are times it’s hard to focus. I also have overall body weakness. My legs, arms, and hands are not strong, so much so that I cannot carry more than a glass of water (and that with both hands) or cannot clip my own nails.

For days I labored with the needlework of Hannah’s dress, sewing the appliqué into the sleeves cascading down beyond the waist. Every leaf and vine and around every petal. One time I got so tired that I went through a suffering bout once again. But when I had recovered, I went back to it again, like a soldier that waxes bold with every wound sustained.

Felix warned me of exhausting myself and suffering in the process, but I told him that I wanted to do it. I needed to do it. With my ailing life, I cannot do things that most mothers normally do. In fact, as a sick person who lives on this earth, there are so many things that I am unable to do. My life is not normal. And because of that, I want that the little things that I could actually do, I would do it with my whole heart, even when it involves sacrifice. Maybe especially so. Then that would be more meaningful.

I told Felix, with a crack in my voice, that I want to perform my role as a wife, a mother, and a Christ follower to the best of my limited ability and strength and lots of God’s grace. It is only through it that my life, no matter how hard and limited and not normal, finds purpose and meaning.

Two posts ago, I wrote about life’s ultimate purpose and meaning, and that is knowing, receiving, and living in God’s love and being one with Him in spirit. But that truth needs to be translated into daily life. How does it look like woven into the individual threads of our ordinary moments and days?

When I was well and strong many years ago, finding purpose and meaning to life was easy. I embarked on a career that was my life’s dream and put up my own company. To the strong, valiant and meaningful pursuits are all possible. But not to the weak. The physically weak. Like me.

I have read many of Ms. Joni Eareckson Tada’s books especially her autobiographies and had frequently visited her website and I have observed that she has accomplished so much, maybe more than a strong and healthy person could ever have. And for me, that’s not too hard to analyze. Although she doesn’t mention it in any of her books, I understand her need to find meaning, purpose, and fulfilment in her life. I understand that very much. When one is an A-1 person, the desire and need to make one’s life meaningful, one that leaves a mark, are great.

Joni is an A-1 person and she is also a quad. But she worked so very hard to put meaning and purpose to her life. Never mind that she’s a famous Christian author, founder and CEO of her organization, Joni and Friends, and an accomplished artist (she paints holding the brush between her teeth). But she also does gardening (I imagine she supervises the gardener) and many other pursuits.

It’s the same with me. No, I’m not following Joni’s footsteps (or wheelchair marks). I also want to pour meaning and purpose into my life even if I am homebound. I didn’t plan in writing two books and blogging, or learning to paint with watercolors, or learning to bake. I just followed my heart and ended up there. Then I realized that, yes, maybe that’s the heart of the weak and disabled: they want their life to matter in spite of.

So, they work harder than the strong no matter how hard it is.

When I was in high school, I had a favorite quotation and it somehow guided me through college and beyond.

“The secret of life is not just to live, but to have something worthwhile to live for”.

(I’m sorry but I have forgotten the source).

We live for God. But that is translated into countless, manifold ways. We may do it through our roles as mother, wife, friend, writer/blogger, artist, sister, daughter, neighbor, employer, co-worker, and so on. Whatever role we play, we want it to be meaningful and with purpose. Especially – eternal purpose.

Hannah's dress and the appliqué I sewed onto it.

Hannah’s dress and the appliqué I sewed onto it.

By the time I finished Hannah’s dress, I couldn’t lift my left arm. It was limp and shaking from its socket. Sacrifices. Maybe they bring the best meaning to life.

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Life’s Purpose and Meaning

In one of those suffering bouts I had recently, it was so hard that I despaired even of life (as at other times before). It was long, arduous, almost unbearable. But I held on, always hoping and desperately expecting I would come through the other side fine. Those physical sufferings are so unrepentantly cruel one feels like one’s being forced to drink an acrid [bitter, caustic, harsh] liquid, the whole cup of it, and then live in that acerbic condition with no means of escape. While I waited for relief, I was driven to think about many deep things.

God is love

Why did God create man? He is from everlasting where time doesn’t exist, surely, He could have continued on without us? He is God, He is complete in Himself, certainly, He doesn’t need anything outside of Himself? My soul pained to ask desperately for I couldn’t fathom the purpose of so much suffering. For it is indescribably hard to live in an acrid environment.

Why did God create people if He knew in the end, they would suffer all sorts of things? Sickness, heart-wrenching problems, ruthless death? Should it not have been merciful to have left us out in the realm of non-existence? Maybe the likeness of these words seem familiar to you. Yes, Job had uttered them when in his own horrendous suffering, he had lamented the day of his birth (see Job 3).

I didn’t ask this in bitterness of soul. I believe I’m past that, by God’s amazing grace. I was driven to ask this maybe because I wanted to understand the purpose and meaning of life, in particular, my life. Maybe when I at least had a grasp of it, I could live with my illness and suffering better, have a sense of fulfilment, and be happier in the process.

I thought that the life span of man is too short for — what, really? For success in one’s chosen field, in one’s work, in one’s vocation, in whatever one’s heart has set into? While I waited out for relief from suffering, I imagined one’s life, anyone’s, whether it was lived full of accomplishments or not, it would end. You would hope that the ones who were left behind may live far better, more memorable lives, so that one’s death would have been a gain. But there’s no guarantee to that. Life goes on as like before.

So, it goes on from generation to the next and the next. In my mind, I saw the people, including me, trudging through life. Sometimes happy, sometimes weary. They go out to their respective toils under the sun, day in and day out. Year in and year out. (Now, I’m sounding like the cynical Preacher in Ecclesiastes).

What, may I ask, is the real purpose and meaning of life? Why are we even here? Why has God put us here in the very first place?

Here are the answers I got:

God is love and how can He translate that love into an experience if not to give it away? How can He be love if He cannot give of Himself? So, He created man in His own image. In that, He has shown His love, for He wanted us to share in His likeness. He created heaven and earth and all that is in them for man to subdue and rule over. He created Eden and put the first man and woman there and He wanted them to be perfectly happy WITH Him without a need for anything more. In His great love, He gave them everything to live by and each other so that they wouldn’t be lonely. Most of all, He wanted to give of Himself to them, for them to freely enjoy and delight in.

That was the plan. But we know what happened next. Now, here we are.

God created man to make a channel for His great love. But we had not really gotten it from the time of Adam and Eve. And maybe until now.

If God created us for and because of His love, then there is no other purpose and meaning of our lives than that to know, receive, respond, reciprocate, and live in that love.

Therefore, whatever we do, whatever we dream of doing, whatever course or career we pursue, that love is the fulcrum in which we move about. It is around it where all things in our lives revolve. God is at the very center, at the very core.

He must continue loving us and giving to us. Our lives, therefore, should be fully open for Him to freely love, to delight in, to enjoy, to bless. Us a continuous offering laid down without resistance. The worst we could do with our lives is to shut them up from His love and shut Him out.

Our life’s purpose and meaning, then, are not the roles we play and perform or the work we do per se, but in living our lives in which God is a big part of. That’s the reason why He gave us His Holy Spirit, through our surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ, so that we will exist and live together. That has always been His master plan: for Him and us to live together in love and harmony.

Our lives then are not about our successes, fulfilment of dreams, and all other blessings received. But it is about the Lover, the Giver, the Savior, the Healer, the Prayer Answerer, the Dream Fulfiller, the Blesser and how we have opened up our lives for Him to be ALL that to us.

So, if we are pulling away from that love, God will make ways to pull us back. Sometimes, His ways are painful, hard to understand. But if we look back to His being Love, we would know then. And understand better. That it is all done in love. The one and only reason. For He is Love and He can’t and won’t change. It’s His nature. It’s Him.

As for me, I won’t think that my sickness and suffering is God’s purpose and meaning for my life. Or course not. He is the Healer. But then, if I would live my life, ailing and weak and suffering as it is, as an open vessel to receive all His love, to be a life which He could live in and do life with – then, I would also have served my life’s meaning and purpose. So, whether I spend my days in bed (I even paint here nowadays) or out there, my life should be God’s. And lived like it’s really His. In His love.

As we love on Him in worship, whatever our positions and situations in life, He loves us much more. Indescribably more. Unfathomably more. As we dance this divine dance, held in each other’s arms in a holy embrace, we become one: the very purpose He created us. And in this dance, He heals us.

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What Makes Life Beautiful?

Because of social media, people can now show off their lives for all the world to see and admire. But a life that is seen through the screen is just a small facet of the whole. The life lived behind it, hidden from the world’s hungry eyes, is what essentially matters. If we live our moments just so we can brag them to the world is not really living. The thing that I’m learning now is to live for my sake and the ones I love, and not for the sake of the world. That is not selfish at all if you will allow me to elucidate. Because of the pull of social media, we have learned to make little decisions that are based not on our own needs and their importance in our lives, but because we think that they will impress the world. 

beautiful life

We can easily see that when, instead of letting the hungry husband dive into the sumptuous dinner before us, for example, he’ll still have to wait because we are going to take pictures first (for IG perhaps!) before the nice arrangement is messed up. Instead of sitting quietly down to dinner, thank the Lord for the good food and ask Him to bless it, then share it with the ones we love gathered around, our thoughts and actions are centered on sharing it first to the world. We make these little decisions for the sake of the world and not for us.

Now, if we fail to show our moments to the world before they come to pass, we feel like there’s something lacking in our lives. But, this shouldn’t be the case. Our lives should be lived to satisfy us and not the world through its “likes and comments”.

Is life beautiful because a photo shared is scooping up “likes” by the hundreds or even thousands? Is that the gauge?

I’m learning, dear readers, I’m learning!

What makes life beautiful? Is it what people see on the outside? Or is it essentially the life on the inside, the one that cannot be seen? The one that is sturdily connected to its Creator and Sustainer and Savior? The one that is whole and full and complete enough in its God it doesn’t need glorying in “likes”? The one that doesn’t need to show off because it is happy and contented in itself?

I am learning hard, yes, on how to live this one life in contentment in God and not in the world. Sometimes, we think that striving to make our lives beautiful for others to admire and emulate is the way to happiness, but I believe that we need to create first a place in our inmost being that is authentically contented, happy, and grateful before it can even be called beautiful. Our lives should deeply satisfy us first before it can attempt to satisfy others. They should be loved, cherished, and made happy first before they can even be useful to others.

I used to think that adorning and surrounding my life with beautiful things – scented candles, pretty English teacups, flowers arranged in a crystal vase, lovely and comfortable bedroom with walls and covers in perfect harmony (you get the picture) – will somehow cover the want in other areas, such as the lack of health and the absence of travel because of it. These things could temporarily bring comfort and joy and even peace, but in no way can they reach that place in the heart and soul where true and enduring happiness and contentment reside, if in the very first place they aren’t there. The true state of the heart, mind, and soul will determine whether the life that they support is beautiful or wanting.

I have to ask this because it is my life right now: Is there beauty at all in suffering? All kinds of suffering for that matter? I believe there is if it brings us to a closer, more intimate walk with our Savior. If it drives us to pursue holiness that is not superficial. Suffering, if seen in the right perspective, is sanctifying. If our suffering ends in our sanctification, then suffering has served its purpose. Now, don’t go gawking at that word: holiness. The truth is, we are called to it. We are called to be saints (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2). We are called to pursue holiness.

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)

A holy life is one that worships God in spirit and in truth, both in the most private place of our lives and in the congregation with other believers.

Shouldn’t a life be established in peace and joy and confidence first in the Lord Jesus Christ before it could even be called beautiful? Shouldn’t a beautiful life begin with a happy and satisfied heart in God first and a spirit that praises and thanks God with its all before it can even be seen and admired by others?

For what is a life if it wallows in its inability to be happy and content in its God who makes all things possible for it? What is a life if it endlessly whines for the lack and cannot see the blessings all around it and rejoice in them and thank God for every single one? What is a life if it cannot see the good?

First, a life must see God, both in the tangible and intangible. Both in the fruit (that we see) and in faith. In the gifts and rewards and in hopes and dreams. A life that sees God in suffering and in victory. In woe and in awe. In fear and in peace. In joy and sadness. A beautiful life is able to balance these and still flourish. And rejoices in the Lord.

A life is beautiful from the inside out when it is drenched in love on both sides: the Lord Jesus’ unfailing, faithful love and our steadfast, growing one. I believe the secret is being truly loving from the depths of our souls. Such love should be reflected in our relationships.

What makes a life beautiful even with all its trials and struggles and suffering? It is that radiance that’s a reflection of God’s glory. It is never easy, I know. For often our lives reflect the suffering or the want. But we need to ask this: Is it about us? Isn’t it about Him working in and through us for His joy, renown, honor and glory? For His kingdom? And yet, it’s also about us as far as He is concerned: the ones He’s known and loved and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (see Eph. 1:4), the blessed recipients of His mercy and grace. For didn’t He give His life to give us ours?

And the life that He gave – it is beautiful.

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The Posture of Worship

The posture of worship for the strong is on their knees or standing, hands raised towards heaven while singing with all their hearts and might. There maybe exuberant clapping, dancing, and jumping, depending on the music, or trembling and crying in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. I have yet to experience these. Most of the time, I find myself in a prone position while I do my best to focus on breathing well, which is often hard, while the Jesus Finest Generation Choir sings during worship service. It’s been mostly like that these past more than 13 years. I cannot count the times I had marveled at how my difficult circumstances hardly ever changes. I look at the singers on the riser and wonder how different my situation is from them. How vastly different! And it pains me to think why it has always been so for many years now.

"We love Him because He first loved us."

If you have been in my blog orbit these past more than 5 years, you know how I have struggled against the hardships my sickness and suffering brings and all the emotional, mental, and spiritual turmoil I go through. And though I always write about my embattled faith still standing strong through it all, it felt like my relationship with God was fraying around the edges, like it couldn’t be entirely, seamlessly, flawlessly whole while I wrestled with the many important issues in my faith life. There were the struggles against envy, self-pity, bitterness, resentment, discouragement, numbness, hurts and pains, deep longings, sadness, anger, fear, cynicism, coldness, and silent rebellion in the heart. Whew!

There were the starings into empty space with empty mind and numb heart, wishing that the blankness would swallow up all the seemingly endless suffering. And it would suddenly be all over.

But recently, the Lord called me into His rest, His holy presence, not through a powerful, Spirit-filled worship, but through gentle whispers in my heart.

A lot has happened internally since then. And though my sickness and suffering has yet to relent, I realized that I was being transformed deep inside. There had been many “refining processes” before. I call them fiery trials and through them, a lot of changes have happened in me. But through the years with no complete healing in sight, I had continued to wrestle with God, much like Jacob did.

This time, God has revealed to me the posture of worship. It is not always standing and singing.

It is not always an abandoned praise where you give all that is within you. It is all that you are. Even when you’re not singing or praising. It is who you are during the times that you cannot rise to sing and lift up your hands.

The posture of worship even in the most difficult times is humility, deep gratitude, and unquestioning faith. The highest worship we could give God is our faith even when it feels like we’ve been thrown into the fiery furnace lit seven times stronger and that it spins like a dryer. (In a cement manufacturing plant, you will see a giant revolving kiln, its height could take up two floors. This is where limestone and other materials are melted to make cement. You will see the product coming out of the kiln like red, liquid fire. The surrounding area is so hot).

Even so, but to still believe in Him and trust Him. To still draw closer to Him and believe that He is good, gracious, and plenteous in mercy. To never doubt that ever again.

To spurn the thoughts swirling in our minds that He is a severe God, that He doesn’t listen to our most fervent prayers. That maybe He’s not fair? That He loves us less than the others? For “Jacob He has loved, but Esau He has hated” (Rom. 9:13), right?

But we don’t embrace these. We cast them out from us. Because we are those children who love their Father, who want to keep on loving Him. Forever. For only in this we become strong. Only in this we are happy – truly, spiritually happy.

everlasting love

My painting of last year. (Please excuse my terrible brush lettering).

So we love Him, for doesn’t the Bible say that we do because He first did it? “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). And this love didn’t only start 2000 years ago. It is from everlasting. He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). (I always want to remember this). So, even in our very difficult suffering, in our very hard places, we will love Him (crying).

We will love Him even through the blinding rain of our tears.

We will love Him because we know. We know the Truth, We know His Word. To love Him is to trust Him. No fight left in us. It is just a willing surrender. A trusting surrender. A loving surrender. That is the posture of worship.

No defiance, no bitterness, no resentment, no numbness, no hardheartedness. Just joyfully loving Him. Like a child who adores and clings to her father.

How can that even be possible when you’re battered by sickness and suffering, buffeted by diverse trials? And He, who alone can take us out of them, seems to be not moving a finger? And why ever not? All things are possible with Him, in Him, through Him, and for Him.

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

I love that.

So, I need not envy others. In Christ I am complete. That is the simple truth. If I believe otherwise, I have listened to the devil’s lie. The Lord Jesus did not only die to save me, He also resurrected so I, too, will live forevermore.

So, we do not only worship the Healer because we’re desperate for healing. We worship because that’s how we’ve been wired. We are created to worship Him. This is the meaning of worshiping in spirit and in truth. We worship even through trials and tribulations, for we do not worship only because of our circumstances, but in His truth. The truth that remains unchanged forever. We worship in that truth. And in the spirit, where the love sowed by the Holy Spirit is connected to its Creator.

The posture of worship will always be on our knees, literally and figuratively.

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Live Graciously

I admit I am still new to living graciously intentionally. It came on the heels of the Lord’s whisper some weeks ago when, as usual, I had to process my emotions and thoughts to figure out how to react to a hurtful comment or abrasive attitude. Sometimes, our default might be to feel resentful or to contend. Or keep silent and try to search for a Christian reaction or a Biblical one. As we simmer in silent anger or hurt, as the case maybe, we are also aware that the Lord knows the state of our hearts and minds. And although we may try to convince ourselves to choose the way of patience and forbearance, such frequent vexations could pile up and grow into something that could harden our hearts.

GRACE

One day not too long ago, I found myself in such a situation. I was thinking, “It can’t always be like this, me, curbing my temper just to maintain peace.” I thought that there shouldn’t be an internal struggle every time, that the mere act of forbearing should not also trigger feelings of resentment or disappointment. The act of forgiveness that we want to happen in our hearts should truly bring peace in there.

Then it came. Written across the space where I was trying to weigh in whether to fully forgive or harbor hurt or entertain a little of both were the words: Live graciously. Then the soft whisper: You have learned to live in My grace, now, learn to live graciously. 

Live graciously.

That’s it! That’s the answer to our dillydallying hearts, when, even in our act of forgiving, we still want to harbor hurts or resentment. Live graciously intentionally. To choose grace every single time. And when we remember grace, and know that we’re doing grace because the Lord Jesus did if first, it all becomes easy. Graciousness doesn’t carry with it a single molecule of unforgiveness or ill will. That is the Lord Jesus’ graciousness and it never gets tarnished.

So, with the whisper, “Live graciously,” my heart exhaled all the impure air and settled in grace. Grace received, grace given away. The practice of giving grace away abundantly just as we continually receive it much the same way settles the disquiet in our hearts. It is a form of worship. When we let that sink in our minds, we know that we are doing a most excellent thing and won’t be resentful about it.

We cannot give away what we have not received ourselves. But we do receive it every single day, in measures beyond what we truly deserve. 

I have somewhat a pretty, good idea what gracious means. And before this writing, I had collected them in my mind as my heart understood it. But I’d like to share the list of synonyms I had gathered from my online search.

Gracious is merciful, compassionate, kind, forgiving, clement, forbearing, tenderhearted, sympathetic, benevolent, generous.

Wow. Don’t you want to be all of those and more? I know I do.

So, we push away all traces of selfishness and choose to be gracious. It’s a beautiful thing. 

It’s grace that changes us. Grace flows from the cross of Christ. The same flows from our surrendered lives, arms wide open in surrender to receive. And to give away. It is only in this posture does grace flow. 

Grace is another facet of love. In most cases, it is the gateway to love. And vice versa. For it is for love that grace flowed in Calvary without measure.

…But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. (Rom. 5:20)

Living graciously, though at times it’s hard to do, is living beautifully. It’s the only good and beautiful way to live. For we cannot love without giving grace.

Living graciously is to not harbor ill feelings or speak ill of our neighbor even if they do towards us. And who is our neighbor? The other person. Our natural tendency is to contend when hurt or when we want to be proven right. But the Bible says to maintain lowliness of mind (humility):

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. (Phil. 2:3)

Meek and lowly. That is Christlikeness.

When we choose to act on our emotions (oftentimes pride) instead of listening to the Holy Spirit, we walk after the flesh and not after the Spirit. But we are in Christ Jesus.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom. 8:1)

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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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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,

Living Blessed

Tim comes to kiss me goodnight and again, I am reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Okay, so you often read me writing those two attributes of our heavenly Father these days, but I honestly can’t help myself. That’s exactly what He is to me: good and faithful. So, following this road of counting my blessings and blessing God for them, like a bee follows the flowers’ fragrance, I am continuing on with my words of thanksgiving and praise.

living blessed

There have been the usual challenges in my life lately, like marriage and motherhood, not counting the fact that I am still unable to walk and travel. But as I was saying, when Tim came to kiss me goodnight at the end of a rather stressful day, I clung to him and squeezed him so tight as the memory of God’s wonderful blessing played out in my mind. There are days that I want to focus on my difficulties and forget to be intentionally and fervently thankful, but the Holy Spirit is quick to point me to the truth: that the Lord Jesus has done mighty works on my behalf. I only need to remember again and again.

In 2005, while I was sick in bed, twice I dreamed of a beautiful baby boy sleeping beside me. And in those two times, I woke up with a deep longing in my heart. I wanted so much for the dream to come true. I wanted to hold that baby in my arms not only in my dreams. But how could that happen, seeing that I was very sick and weak?

One day, an older sister in Christ came to visit. I told her about my dreams. She said that God was showing me that He was going to bless me with a son. That brought joy to my heart although I never really gave it much thought. I was more focused on my illness and suffering and my hope for recovery.

One whole year passed wherein I received partial healing and was able to go to our church’s crusades with my family. Then in 2007, I conceived. The dream had turned into reality. Nothing is impossible with God. He is a good God, a rewarder of our unwavering faith and obedience and fulfiller of our most fervent dreams.

That night that the memory came rushing back, I hugged Tim tightly. He’s one of the proofs of God’s love and faithfulness to me. I was embracing God’s gift, the deep desires of my heart filled to overflowing.

It’s not a secret to you, my dear readers, that I had struggled with comparison and envy these many years. I had written about it a few times here and also in my book Quiet Strength: And Learning From the Women of the Bible Who Had It. This is mainly because of my illness and suffering and being unable to work, travel, and do the things my heart desires to do. They have not completely gone but it’s far less intense and frequent now. They don’t affect me as much. Yes, I’m much stronger and wiser now. God, through my incessant prayers and supplications with much pleading, is slowly walking me away from these spiritually unprofitable emotions and practices. He is slowly opening my eyes to live blessed rather than live less: less than, loved less, known less, blessed less.

This is the song of my heart now:

For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness. (Ps. 107:9)

And so I want to live blessed everyday even through life’s vicissitudes.

How do we live blessed? More specifically, how does one who has frail health live blessed day after day after day?

Living blessed means that you count everything in your life – good or bad, trial or triumph – as stepping stones for growth and fruition, and in the end, as reasons for joy and thanksgiving. It is believing and trusting that God is in control and He knows what’s best for us even if we don’t understand and see the meaning of our painful trials, and in the process, embrace the lessons wherewith we can grow thereby.

It is seeing beyond our circumstances, toward the things that are not temporal but eternal. It is living in the knowledge that Jesus loves us fiercely, unconditionally, and unfailingly, and that nothing can separate us from His love. Living in the knowledge that He loves us so much He died for us to give us eternal life.

Living blessed, therefore, is living loved, forgiven, saved, joyful, thankful, courageous, fruitful, generous, victorious, and as heir of eternal life!

Living blessed means we bless others, too. Yes, even if they may have wronged or hurt us. It is a proof that Jesus’ love resides in us to the magnitude that it naturally flows outward toward others. Especially those who are so in need of Jesus and His salvation. Yes, you are so blessed that anger or unforgiveness  or ill will doesn’t find a place in your heart!

Living blessed is counting less the material things we possess (although we sincerely thank God for them, too) and more of the works of God that we do, laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven.

Not very recently, I focused my attention to the silent conviction that has been going on in my mind. I wondered why I wasn’t so much affected by the brokenness of the world at large. I often just forget about the great sufferings and needs of peoples around the world when I read about their plight. Maybe the main reason was that, I couldn’t do anything about it anyway. But it is never good for a Christian to feel helpless and indifferent. It is un-Christlike.

There were spurts of intense compassion and feverish praying for others, even for people I didn’t know, in years past, like when I prayed for those countrymen who were fleeing the conflict in Palestine, when I prayed for the people that might be affected by the fire near our place, and a few other instances. But the passion had not been sustained until I didn’t do it anymore.

I wondered when I would have the heart and genuine love for others’ salvation, those people that are outside of my circle, people I haven’t seen or met but exist anyway. Like the prostitute that prowls the streets at night, the children who dine with Rugby instead of a decent food. Every man, woman, and child, who sleeps in gutters, under the bridge, in dark alleys, in the parks, and who is in danger of every evil imaginable. Unprotected. For the one who languishes in bed with no hope of healing; the wife or mother who nurses a broken heart and home; the husband or father who can’t leave the casino or another woman’s arms.

For the destitute, the broken, and the lost.

The first stirrings began when the lyrics of Christy Nockels’ Sing Along hit home. At night when I say my prayers, safe in the comfort of our home, I think about those who are far less fortunate, the people I mentioned above, and the Lord put into my heart to pray for them, with true compassion flowing from my heart. I pray that God would cover them with His protection and not let them be destroyed as the world sleeps, that He would reach out His mighty arm towards them and save and heal them, too.

Great God
Wrap Your arms around this world tonight…*

That’s what being blessed and living blessed do.

(Sing Along by Christy Nockels; photo from Instagram).

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Journey with Jesus,

Love Your Love Story {A Marriage Tale Part 2}

I want to have a body scrub,” she said quietly, when her husband came into the room to carry her to the bathtub for her evening bath.

“What body scrub?” He asked. He wasn’t frowning, but he wasn’t smiling either.

“Strawberry body scrub. You bring down the box of The Body Shop from the rack. It’s there. I want to try it.” She stripped off her clothes as her husband locked the door.

marriage tale2

She sat on a towel spread out on the bed. He squirted the thick scrub and began to rub it on her body. The sweet strawberry scent covered them both. “This is like a pure strawberry jam,” he commented while concentrating on spreading the red “jam” peppered with little black seeds, the fruity scrub and his strokes smoothing out and soothing her skin and flesh.

“I think these little black beads are the strawberries’ seeds,” she said with contentment in her voice. Then they were quiet for a while as her man did his job. She is learning not to talk too much when they are together like this. Or complain. She knows the consequences to her comments and complaints. He doesn’t like them.

“Are we done yet?” He finally asked.

“Yes. I’m ready for the bath,” she answered as she ran her hands on her smoothened skin. “This scrub makes the skin soft and silky, especially the backside. I want that when you touch me in that part, it doesn’t feel rough,” she said, smiling. They have been married 16 years, but oh, it wouldn’t hurt if she flirted with her husband from time to time, would it?

“Well, when I touch you there, I don’t notice the roughness. My mind focuses on the task at hand,” he answered, poker face. But she knew better. This was his game. He loved bantering with her about intimate things. And yes, she believed him when he said he didn’t notice her external imperfections. Having been ill these many years, there were long seasons when all she could manage was a sponge bath or none at all. But he came to bed and lay beside her night after night (except for those times when they fought and wanted to give her space), not minding at all how she smelled. No, he’s never finicky.

There was a time when her unwashed hair had tangled up so badly it had formed a thick, heavy nest on her head. But he didn’t comment then, only to offer to untangle it. And during the times that she could shampoo her hair, she intentionally snuggled in his chest to let him know her hair smelled good, for a change. The way he gathered her in his arms and buried his head on her hair and kissed it was exactly the same way when she was unwashed. He still kissed the top of her head even when she had a nest of a tangle.

When she looked (and felt) so sick and unsightly, he never showed any traces of distaste. That’s the no. 1 thing she likes in him. She doesn’t have to feel ashamed with him. She can be herself around him and never worry that he will be turned off or his love wane. Still, there were times years ago that she had felt insecure (but that’s another story).

Done with the body scrub, he braced himself to carry her to the bathroom. “Oh, I’d be very slippery!” She said, chortling a little. There was one time when he lifted her out of the bathtub, wet and bare, she almost slipped out of his arms. Since then, he would cover her with her robe first.

And she was slippery and wiggly! Weak from hardly-suppressed laughing, he almost dropped her. But he didn’t. He never ever dropped her. Not even once, these past 20+ years that they had known each other.

She can trust him that much. She can trust his love that much.

But in her heart and mind, the unpleasant spats almost always surface. She easily sees his defects and faults like a laser. And not too long ago, her heart had screamed silently, “I don’t like him!” No, she didn’t hate him and she knew she would always love him, on a foundational level, but liking a person, or a man, is a different thing, right? Or maybe she got that idea from a blog… Or a movie? Was it her favorite North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell? Margaret dismissed John Thornton’s profession of love and marriage proposal with “I don’t love you. I don’t even like you.” Ouch!

But yes, she does believe that a woman has to like a man for their marriage to even prosper and succeed. She has to like his manners, his attitudes, his integrity, his character, his principles. To sum it all up: She has to admire him. And if she is really honest, her man has those qualities (and annoying ones, too!).

Maybe she had focused too much on his imperfections (like his inability to communicate and articulate with words and express himself from the heart) and not on his works. But oh, how she would love for him to talk, and talk from the heart the words that she had been longing to hear from him all their life together. But he had told her clearly twice (when he was pressed to answer) that he was not a man who talked like that. She was stunned and dejected those two times.

The third time, there was a slight twist. He told her not to expect him to talk like that but just to see his works.

One time, she accused him of not admiring her watercolor paintings. “Why do you say so?” He asked.

“Because you never say so,” she answered pointedly.

“When I drive to Greenbelt to buy your very costly Winsor & Newton paints, that means I admire and support your work,” he said evenly.

“Yes! Yes, of course!” And she laughed, satisfied. If she could dance, she would have. She wanted to try Winsor & Newton paints but didn’t know they were that expensive (~$18 per tube), but he bought them anyway, not informing her beforehand.

But she forgets. If she is honest enough to admit, she has the habit of comparing their marriage to others. When would she ever learn that that would never work? Comparing just brings her deeper into feelings of dismay, disappointment, and dissatisfaction.

She knows her husband never does that thing – comparing. He is so uncomplicated like that.

But what possesses her heart is the sadness that she can’t seem to brag about their marriage, their love story, like other wives do. She often sees only the ugly and imperfect parts, rarely the grace-filled beauty.

Maybe that’s the product of a perfectionist mind – it focuses on and magnifies the flaws, the good parts covered by dusts of high expectations and disappointments.

She knows so well that her husband is a perfectly imperfect human being, as she and all others are. That’s why people need a Savior. The Lord Jesus is the author and perfecter of their faith and all the other things attached to it: Christian attitudes and character, love, spiritual maturity. He is the author, perfecter, and transformer of their lives.

The Lord has taught her that only by His grace poured out into their hearts, and them pouring out this same grace to each other, can their marriage become beautiful. Grace received and grace given. In the deepest sense and practice of the phrase.

She will learn to love their love story. Because in the end, it’s really God’s story.

(Photo from Pinterest).

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Journey with Jesus,