Love Never Fails 2

Growing up, we learned that the opposite of love is hate. Then Joni Eareckson Tada wrote in one of her devotionals that lust is the opposite of love and went on to prove her point. But when the Lord put into my heart to write about the subject of love, this sentence hung on my mind and would not let go:

The opposite of love, agape love, is selfishness.

love never fails

In my head, I couldn’t string more than two sentences together, let alone construct a whole paragraph. I lost some sleep thinking about it. But because there was no other inspiration that came to me from the Lord, I thought He really wanted me to write about it. I’m not an expert on the subject, but I pray that you will learn from this short journey of love as much as I learned writing about it.

Agape is defined as “love as revealed in Jesus, seen as spiritual and selfless and a model for humanity.” Before the love and light of Jesus came into our lives, most if not all of us, were into all kinds of sin, not because we hated (that is, what we had known as the opposite of love), but because we were selfish. We only thought of ourselves: how to make us happy and satiated. There is no better embodiment of this than myself. Before I came into the light, I was wrapped up in my own self-love. And you know, if you only love yourself or your love for yourself is much higher than your love for others, like family, for instance, you don’t care if you shatter their hearts or ruin their lives. 

Why is there adultery, dishonesty, broken marriages and families? Is it not because we are selfish? Why  do same-sex individuals choose to couple and live together like a husband and wife and would fight to the death for their “rights”, rebelling against God’s commandment? Is it not because their love for themselves is greater than their fear of God? Materialism, covetousness, liberated lifestyle [not bound by traditional sexual and social roles] – don’t all these have their roots in selfishness?

We read the characteristics of love in the beautiful Love Chapter written by the apostle Paul:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. (1 Cor. 13:4-8)

A selfish person cannot always be patient and kind. He will always think about his own welfare before others’. Grumbling is his native tongue. He is never free from feelings of envy and always finds the need to brag, for he is essentially proud and wants only to believe in and admire himself. A selfish person cannot “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things,” for he will always be looking out for himself, wanting to be free of all hassles, inconveniences, and encumbrances.

There is no true freedom, or power, or victory in selfishness.

But love is entirely on a different plane. When I began to feel the tugs of guilt on the magnitude of my sin and sought the Savior’s light, He also began to strip off my selfishness. That shift from selfishness to the Lord Jesus Christ was a journey of love. A love that is wrought with power, grace, and no small miracle. We begin to learn love the moment we shift our focus from ourselves to God and others.

I believe that love is not only a verb, but it has its own mighty power that conquers. Unlike selfishness which is vain and completely futile, love is the key ingredient for a God-sized miracle. When I received Jesus in my life, I began to look into the powers of this love, His love, as the single thread that holds everything together: freedom that comes with salvation, healing, peace, joy, faith, hope. The nails, no matter how big they were, weren’t what held Jesus at the cross. This is poignantly expressed in the song What Held You on the Cross?

What held you on the cross was more than just the nails.
With all the pain and suffering and all that you have lost
Your love for me could only be what held you on the cross.

This love was so powerful it resisted to the point of shedding blood, striving against sin (Heb. 12:4). A love so encompassing it saves from the fires of hell. A love so divine it lifts the redeemed into glory.

I believe in the power of love to heal and make whole.

This was what I always implored my husband during those painful strifes between us that hurt our faith and family. And I believed, had hindered my healing. I’ve always believed that dwelling on the side of love – active, fervent love – especially so in trying times, will shift the tide of defeat into an overwhelming victory. I believe that a love that is steadfast [firmly constant, unchanging, unmovable] through all life’s seasons and vicissitudes is the kind that conquers all.

I believe that unity bound by strong cords of love could usher in a great miracle. A threefold cord is not quickly broken (Ecc. 4:12). And we know that the third strand is the Lord. When He is the third party in our marriages, we can conquer all. “For where two or three are gathered together in [His] name, there [He is] in the midst of them (Mat. 18:20).

When we gather before Him in love and peace (and not in strife) as a couple or as a family and without resentments in our hearts, He will meet us. And in His mighty presence, all things are possible.

Love is greater than faith. Apostle Paul wrote, “…And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). In another letter, he wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6 NIV). Also, Saint James challenges us with his words, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).

Expressing our faith through love. Showing the evidence of our faith by our works. The parable of The Good Samaritan exemplifies best these teachings. A priest, then a Levite, both came down the road where the man who was left half-dead by thieves lay. Upon seeing him, they each passed by on the other side. The priest and the Levite have a religion but not love. But the Samaritan showed his faith in God through his mercy and love.

Love that flows from our hearts into our lips and hands has the power to bind up wounds and heal broken hearts and bodies.

Do you have a sick and suffering person in your life who needs your love and care? A hurting soul who needs healing and lifting up? God put them there for you to minister in mercy with your faith working mightily through love.

Never underestimate the power of love, the love of God [that] has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Rom. 5:5). Love never fails.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor. 13:13).

(All definitions were taken from thefreedictionary.com).

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The “Older Son” Mentality

I wrote this September last year and queued it for posting. It’s 5 months old but powerful testimonies such as this and the lessons we learn from them never go out of style).

We sat down to dinner to partake of the takeout that Felix brought home after attending the anniversary of an outreach of our Church a few towns from our place. Midway, he told the kids to listen well to the testimony he heard and he was going to share. The testimony was about a young man who backslid and turned back to a life of debauchery. Completely forgetting the Lord who had saved him, he revelled in all kinds of vices. There wasn’t a day that he wasn’t inebriated. This went on for 8 long years.

Older Son Mentality

For the record, I’m not that fond of stories about backsliding. They irk me.

My husband continued. The man soon met his doom (in our common belief, it was either God’s judgment or His protection over him had been removed). He figured in a fatal motorcycle accident fracturing his skull. He was rushed to the hospital. A fourth of his brain was removed. He was comatose for two months.

At this point, I want to insert the grave warning from Hebrews (for that’s what I thought after listening thus far to the testimony):

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.  (Heb. 10:26-27)

Still, my husband continued and looked like there was much more to tell. The man testified that while in coma, he was flung into hell. There, he was tortured by demons night and day, forcing him to drink gallons upon gallons of liquor. He testified of many other horrible things that he witnessed in hell. I will not go into the details now, but these terrifying things that he revealed – kids’ obsession with cartoons like Pokemon, video games, rap music, etc. – all met their punishment in hell. These were the ones my husband emphasized to the kids, warning them to never be involved with any of those things.

I reminded him that Hannah and Tim, by the grace of God, don’t watch Pokemon and the like and never listen to rap music. As a rule in our home, we only play praise music. We don’t have a cable service or a powerful antenna. It’s very rare that the kids watch TV except videos on YouTube like Oggy and the Cockroaches. I had to mention that secular program because Tim is fond of it. But that night, he was told never to watch it again.

[Update: Tim never watched Oggy and the Cockroaches from then on. When we gladly open our hearts to the Holy Spirit’s voice and invitation to an intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus, obedience to Him in every aspect of life becomes sweet].

My husband was not yet done. The man awoke from coma but couldn’t recognize anyone including his mother. He couldn’t function physically and mentally due to the damage in his brain. But his mother, who remained faithful and fervent in serving God even when all these trials came her way, brought his son’s picture to our beloved Pastor Wilde Almeda. After pray over and laying on of hands (with just his picture) by the man of God, he was miraculously healed. His mind and all his bodily functions were restored and he recovered completely.

Undoubtedly, as the other countless testimonies I’ve heard in our Church, Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry, this one was astounding, there’s no denying that. I should have punctuated it with a shower of Hallelujah! and Praise the Lord! as I’m wont to do. I’m an unapologetic “glutton” for amazing testimonies, especially ones about miraculous healing. I feast on them. Aside from the Word, I fill up my soul with them to nourish my faith. But this time, I reacted differently.

This wasn’t about the brother who backslid, almost died, and was healed. This was all about God and His amazing grace and mercy. I could very well see that. But even before my husband ended his story, a shadow had crept into my heart like a dark, ominous cloud casting gloom on the earth. The testimony depressed me, not at all because of its triumph, but to me, it turned into a story of jealousy. I knew that I shouldn’t turn the spotlights away from God toward me (again!), but my understanding was so narrow that I wanted to think about me. I knew it was wrong. I knew so well it wouldn’t benefit me at all. And it wouldn’t honor God, which is the utmost concern. But still, I opened my mouth to put into words the bitterness that had risen up within me. Mine wasn’t an agitated reaction but more of a feeling of dismay. Or maybe of cold acceptance of my plight.

I acknowledged God’s great mercy toward the brother, that He is, without a doubt, a very merciful God. But I couldn’t stop myself from reminding my husband that He seemed to have overlooked me all these years that I had been faithful to Him (by His grace!). Since I gave my life to Him, I didn’t turn back. But this brother, after knowing Him, turned his back and dishonored Him for many years. But after all that, God restored his health. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

Do you hear the words of the older son echoing through time? I did! With sparkling clarity! I had become the older son in the Lord’s parable and resented my prodigal brother! I knew I shouldn’t question God’s judgments, so, after saying these words, I kept my mouth shut and no longer mentioned the matter for the remainder of the night.

As I rested after dinner, I prayed to God and asked for forgiveness for sulking and being jealous. I told Him I honored His judgments and that He was a righteous and just God. (I did that because I knew it was the right thing to do). Then the words of the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 came to me: “[Daughter], you are always with me, and all that I have is yours” (v. 31).

For a while, I let those words roll in my mind and sink into my heart. All that I have is yours. At that moment, it was imperative to me that I acknowledge the blessings of His constant presence in my life all these years. There must be tangible proofs of His love for me despite my unhealing. Then the image of my beautiful son Tim appeared in my mind. He is, undoubtedly, one of God’s wonderful blessings to me.

Around 2005, I dreamed twice of a beautiful baby boy sleeping beside me. I became ill and unable to work in 2003. In 2005, I was still waiting for healing, but I had enough faith to believe that the dream would become a reality. And it did. In 2007, I gave birth to my son Tim. I was still waiting for healing, but this great miracle happened in the middle of that.

Every time I’m with my boy, the memory of God blessing me with him is never far from my mind. And my heart sings gratitude.

Like me and the older son in the Lord’s parable who was always near his father he couldn’t see the continuous flow of blessings in his life, do you also sometimes miss seeing and appreciating God’s goodness in yours? In what ways have you done it?

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Journey with Jesus,

Encouragement for the Journey

On January 2, 18 years ago, I stood at one of the windows of Cainta Municipal Hall registering my chemical trading business. The whole place was deserted (maybe I was the only over eager person to be processing her business permit a day after New Year’s Day), but I was so full of hopes and big dreams it was hard to wipe the grin off my face or extinguish the brightness of my eyes.

encouragement for the journey

Eighteen years have come and gone since that day, I couldn’t have known then how much stuff could be squeezed into that entire length of time.

On New Year’s Day 2005, while being cooped up inside our Church’s fasting house in Pampanga (not fasting but desperately waiting for healing), depressed and uncertain of the future, the Lord spoke to me, “Go home, my child. Wherever you go, I am there with you.” This was not your ordinary “sensing” the voice of God, but it was the kind which pierced through my darkness, jolted me out of my pity party and sent us packing without delay. Within the same hour, we were leaving the sanctuary of the fasting house headed for home. Between that time and New Year’s Eve 2014, I recovered enough to be able to travel to crusades, give birth to my son Tim, start my blog, then fall ill again.

New Year’s Eve 2014 found me on the throes of death. When I knew for certain that I wouldn’t recover after hours of gasping for breath, I positioned myself in such a way that death may come not too harshly. But after turning, anticipating death to come in a matter of minutes, the struggle slackened. The powerful flow of air entered my system unobstructed. The breath of life flowed in and out of my nostrils, flooding my whole body with great relief. I didn’t know what to make of it: Was it deliverance? Was I out of danger? Has death given up on me? While confusion reigned during those few moments, a frantic voice was shouting in my mind, “Breathe! Breathe the air I freely give you!” I gave all my concentration in inhaling and exhaling. When I could finally turn over and speak, it was about half-hour to 2015.

It has been a year since that scary and glorious night, but I’m still here being held by God.

What do these things tell? Proverbs 19:21 may partly answer this question (for we can never completely unravel the mysterious workings of God):

There are many plans in a man’s heart,
Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand. 

God’s purposes and plans, they will ultimately stand. We may never understand His ways and thoughts. That is not our part. Our part is to believe and trust. When we have finally grasped it, we would have embraced wisdom. That kind of wisdom that cannot be compared with all the things we may desire; it is in fact a tree of life (see Proverbs 3).

The path of a Christ-follower is never easy. It is strewn with trials of all kinds. After all, it is the narrow path and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (part of Acts 14:22). But the marvelous thing is, there is enduring peace and joy even in the midst of life’s storms. That is what walking after the Spirit and in wisdom brings. We are somewhat healed of our deep longings and we carry on day after day after day. That is why the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, the Helper in all our travails. Without Him, life is like a desolate land.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:16-17)

How thoughtful and caring our Savior is that He wouldn’t leave us alone in this world that is full of troubles and toils! He had it all planned before the foundation of the world. He had it all covered. All we need to do is trust and obey. The Holy Spirit who dwells in us enables us, even empowers us to carry out God’s purposes and plans, even though sometimes we don’t understand. Yes, even through pain. Through Him we are constantly loved and held and kept.

David was a man who was acquainted with troubles. But he knew whom to trust and cling to. In all his tribulations (and there had been many!), he never grew weary of God. Yes, he had questions directed towards Him, strings of them. He walked so intimately with God that he knew He could very well handle them. Through deliverance or desperation, his sight was always heavenward. His praises and prayers became the psalms. Psalm 63 exquisitely expresses his dependence and awe of God:

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. (vv. 3-5)

In the midst of David’s stark difficulties, he learned that God’s lovingkindness is better than life. Life could be cruel. But beyond all this, there is hope that never dies. It is the life in Christ in the here and now that transcends all pain and hopelessness. It is this life in Him, in His enduring lovingkindness, that life on earth becomes bearable, a little piece of heaven. It is Christ in [us], the hope of glory (Col 1:27).

But some of us are more like Asaph (I am one occasionally :D). In Psalm 73, Asaph had been downright honest of what he’d been through. He was envious of other men, the ungodly, so much so that he admitted he almost stumbled in his own faith walk. He went on to enumerate the ungodly’s perceived “blessedness”:

They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.

…They have more than heart could wish.

…[they] are always at ease… (vv. 5,7,12)

Then he looked into his own life and saw the huge difference. He saw how he had humbly subjected himself to God’s continual correction and for what? And as he tried to assimilate it all, it pained him too much. Until he went into the sanctuary and God gave him deeper understanding. He realized his error and his heart was grieved, so much so that he goaned, “was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You” (v. 22).

God made him see that he was the one who was truly blessed, not the ones he was envious of. He then wrote these beautiful words:

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
26 My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (vv. 23-26)

Oh, what truth! What great encouragement!

In our own faith journey, we were like Asaph one time or another. Isn’t it so wonderful that we have these treasures of wisdom now for our own counsel and edification? Oh, praise God for continuing to speak to us powerfully through His Word!

Like Asaph and all the other heroes of faith and early Christians that had journeyed before us, our journey of faith is peppered with lessons both painful and sweet. We have to embrace each one with humble hearts then echo Asaph’s praise (vv. 23-26).

I invite you to read and meditate on Psalm 73.

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Journey with Jesus,

The Wisdom of Proverbs 3

Before December rolled in, I stepped up my prayer life, praying at 12 noon and 6 in the evening, Monday to Saturday. I set my alarm so as not to miss my schedule. I was on a mission. My purpose was to bombard heaven with my prayers for healing, much like the widow at the beginning of Luke 18 who harassed the judge with her constant cries for help. I wanted to receive my miracle on Christmas and be able to go out with my family at last.

proverbs 3

December came and I noticed the lump on my chest (just below my collarbone), which has been dormant for years, suddenly becoming painful. Within a few days, it became inflamed, red, and seemed to be growing bigger and wider. I added a 3 o’clock prayer to my prayer regimen just for the healing of this lump that was becoming intensely painful each day.

Days before Christmas, it became so big and swollen it looked like a little apple ready to burst. It also brought terrible pain, it was hard to make the slightest movement. I couldn’t shift my position in bed and even if I lay still, intermittent pain tore at my flesh. I cried out in pain. I can’t count the times that I sat straight up, tears spurting from tightly-closed eyes while riding out the pain, and cried out to God for help, relief, and clarity. For this got me confused beyond words. One time I cried out, “Oh Lord Jesus! Do You still love me?” I realized that pain could turn a human into a beast and I determined to myself that wouldn’t happen to me. I have the Holy Spirit.

I spoke back His words to Him. You know, the son asking his father for bread and will he give him a stone? Or fish and will he give him a snake? I asked for my healing but I got another disease on my chest instead. It hurt me. It deeply hurt me that the Lord Jesus would do that to me. I thought we were very close. I thought we were friends. And if it was Satan who was doing it, why would He even allow it? These were really big, serious questions I had. In the midst of physical pain and suffering, disability, and confusion, conflicting thoughts roiled within me.

For the more than 12 years that I’ve been ill and have suffered, I had tried every spiritual and mental remedy and trick in the book that I knew of. Believe me: been there, done that. When your life is faced with difficult challenges, you want to hold onto something sturdy and stable. Generally, your faith and God’s Word ably play the part. But in the daily struggles, your mind wants to latch itself onto things that see you through moment by moment. They could be sources of inspiration and encouragement, like God’s promises.

To be able to bear life’s hard trials, the mind needs to sit on a steady flow of peace and the heart on some measure of joy.

But a very present physical pain sends everything into a tailspin. On those nights that pain stole my rest and peace, my mind refused to rise up to the occasion to fix everything as usual.

One night before Christmas, I groaned in pain, “My mind cannot absorb all this anymore. It has come to a dead-end. All this suffering is beyond me.” I sat up and cried my soul out. “Lord, in the midst of all these hardships and confusion and hurt, there is something, one last thing I’m not giving up and will never give up: my desire to get healed and live. I want to make this clear, my Lord Jesus: I. Want. To. Live. Satan can never steal that from me!” Suddenly, words stopped tumbling out of my lips. The stillness gripped me. Physical healing hadn’t come but something peaceful reigned over the turmoil in my mind and I didn’t want to utter a single word anymore.

The light in our room was dim but even with my closed eyes, I sensed a light shining around me. And there was peace and quiet. At the center of it was the Lord’s presence. Then, I just wanted to sing. Sing in my suffering! But that was what my soul yearned to do.

So, I sang. I sang the song that was most meaningful given my situation.

Ikaw ang ilaw ko sa dilim

(You are my light in the dark)

Ikaw ang gabay ko sa gabi

(You are my guide at night)

Ikaw ang pag-asa ng buhay ko

(You are the hope of my life)

Ikaw Panginoong Hesus

(You, Lord Jesus).

Copious tears came. Cleansing tears. Good tears. Tears of peace.

And the love of Jesus embraced me. It caressed my weary soul and body. I continued to sing. I sang not in desperation. I sang not because I needed healing. I sang because it was what I was created to do. I sang because the Lord Jesus Christ is worthy. I sang because I love Him, adore, and worship Him. I sang in trust, in peace, and in surrender. He owns me. He holds my life and future in His hands. There was nothing more to worry about.

I lay down to sleep, exhausted, but restored.

In the morning, I opened my Bible to Proverbs 3. Its wisdom spoke to me like it never did before. It was an affirmation of what I had experienced the night before.

For length of days, long life, and peace: Never depart from God’s commands. Hold onto them.

To find favor and good success in the sight of God: Retain steadfast love and faithfulness (do not be tempted to rebel in your heart or succumb to hopelessness).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (v. 5) (Trying so hard to wrap our brain around things that are for God alone to know is an exercise in futility. It is so liberating to let go and let God).

For healing of the flesh and refreshment to the bones: Be not wise in your own eyes (or rely on our own wisdom and understanding as is often the case).

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom…

nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor. (vv. 13,15,16)

To trust in the Lord with all our hearts; to hold onto His truth no matter what: That is wisdom! And if we have taken hold of this – WE ARE BLESSED! Nothing we desire can compare with it. Yes, because this wisdom will always be higher and stronger than our longings, our deep desires. It will always bring peace. It will always triumph. [We] can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us] (Phil. 4:13).

In the morning of December 27th, I woke up drenched in sticky fluid. The lump in my chest had ruptured and I didn’t even feel it!  I was instantly relieved of the intense pain and within 24 hours, the lump gradually deflated. Hallelujah! 

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Journey with Jesus,

Living in God’s Faithfulness (Part Memoir)

A teacup I bought online from a local seller on IG reminded me of summers and rainy days gone by. The design is called Vintage Flowers and were it not for its price (I paid P560, roughly $12, for 2 sets of teacup and saucer), I wouldn’t have looked at it twice. But later on as I thought about it, the vintage flowers hue pasted on my mind, I was brought back to that little bedroom with the dilapidated balcony in my grandmother’s old house. And I was six years old again. One of my life’s greatest treasures are my childhood memories. They remain as vivid as the colorful butterflies that swarmed the blooming lantanas on summer mornings.

God's_faithfulness

The painted flowers on the antique bed’s iron headboard were like those on the teacup as I remember it. As we sat on that narrow bed, my eldest cousin (I was 5 or 6 and she was forever a grown-up lady) told me stories about the novels she read. I listened mesmerized. It was in that little room which smelled of an attar of freshly-starched laundry, talcum powder, naphthaline, and the adhering scent of decades-old memories that I first fell in love with reading.

Sprawled at the threshold of the crumbling balcony, I would read aloud, the vast, endless sky my ceiling and the trees and the birds my audience. It was an age of discovery and wonder. And security. Summers which saw trees lit up by droves of fireflies on dark nights and dragonfly catching as they came out to hover over the flowers when the sun was up.

That old house had long been torn down, but my beautiful memories of it remain alive. I keep them all in a treasure trove deep in my soul. It’s a testimony of God’s fierce love and care, maybe an imprint of forever in my heart.

If I need to feel Jesus’ love, I remember those days, those days when He answered even before I called (tears). For He healed me each time the flu visited. The steaming hot native chicken soup with ampalaya leaves tasted like heaven as healing and recovery melded with restored appetite (more tears). If the gracious Lord had been so caring when I was little, He was mighty strong when I went to college with big dreams in my heart and little (or sometimes none at all) money in my pocket. So, He blessed me.

If He was faithful then, He is still faithful today, even though life may have taken a new turn. Seasons change as surely as the sun rises in the east, but Jesus remains the same (Heb. 13:8); God says of Himself that He changes not (Mal. 3:6). Our lives change for a reason and purpose according to His will. This I have learned the hard way. No matter. The same God who smiled down at me as I chased butterflies and dragonflies in the heat of summer and waded through rain-flooded fields picking up snails is the same God who walks with me now through the “wilderness”.

I find great comfort from what David had declared. I believe these words took their form from God’s promise in Isaiah 46:3.

But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.
I was cast upon You from birth.
From My mother’s womb
You have been My God. (Ps. 22:9-10)

From the very first breath we took out of our mother’s womb, God has been present and looking on with everlasting love. If we can’t believe this, how can we believe the miracle of life which is continually happening all around us? For how can the throbbing little heart and tender flesh and bones of a helpless babe grow with only the mother’s breast and love without the nurturing power of the heavenly Father who makes it all possible? Like the expectant seedling breaking through the dark earth to kiss the sun and drink in CO2, life is both a miracle and a gift, the main thread that weaves God’s grand scheme of things. Like what David wrote, we were cast upon Him from birth and we became His constant concern.

But God’s knowledge of us even goes farther than the day we first saw the light. From the foundation of the world, He chose us (see Eph. 1:4). In whatever manner we’ve been called, there has been a transformation in our life, a palpable change. To many of us, the change was so radical, fiery trials and all, that we didn’t know what hit us and we couldn’t help but wonder as though some strange thing happened to us (1 Pet. 4:12).

And we want to know and understand if God is really in all of it. In the early part of my salvation then subsequent trials, I found the answer I was looking for in Romans 8 and my soul found great relief and comfort. The words seemed to shine and leap off the page and spoke powerfully to me that I wrote at the margin of my Bible: God has indeed called me!

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30)

Concerning us whom He has called:

He foreknew

He predestined

He called

He justified

He glorified

There is a master plan set from the foundation of the world and we have a vital part in it, according to His will and by His own grace. He will see it through to the end.

For those of us who are presently weighed down by trials that we groan in our spirits, we can find encouragement from Apostle Peter’s words:

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Pet. 4:12,13,16)

I believe the suffering that is mentioned above is not from illness or disease of the body, for how can Christ the Healer be glorified in it? But He will be glorified in our healing. Even so, I believe it is through the placidness of our spirit amid the storm that He is also glorified.

Just recently, I silently cried towards heaven and poured out the bitterness of my soul, not to grouse, but more like Hannah who prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish (1 Sam. 1:10). I feel like my physical suffering is like a battering ram that mercilessly beats my already weak body and it is wearying. It is during these desperate times that I feel my courage wane.

But I always find strength in the Word. Always. And lately, I’ve been drawing comfort and courage from this promise of His:

Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you. (Is. 46:4)

I want to emulate Joseph who, from his youth, went through hard and painful trials and yet, remained steadfast and unmovable in his faith in God. And God blessed him immensely in the latter part of his life. I believe this is the pattern that secures a blessed future. May we adopt this steadfastness and placidness of heart and spirit as we live in God’s faithfulness.

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Keep Following

My beloved husband arrived home late last night from one of the crusades in the province just as I was having a midnight meal. He joined me, spooning beef soup from my bowl generously. I wasn’t surprised if he was tired and hungry. From overnight prayer meeting last Friday, he went straight to Pangasinan to attend the crusade in one of the towns there, stealing only a few hours of sleep in their home in San Fabian. At some point, he told me of a man in a wheelchair who came to the crusade. Unable to walk, he was carried by workers to the beach where they were baptizing. When he came out of the water, he was already walking. As always, the workers and brethren who witnessed the healing were amazed and worshiped God for the miracle. He said it as if miracles like that happen everyday.

But there was not a single word that came out of my mouth. No, not a sound. I remained bowed before my plate, quietly chewing  the bits of meat like I hadn’t heard anything. I heard him alright but my heart seemed to have clamped shut against such news. It was received with an icy silence from me that he didn’t push it any longer.

As the silence stretched between us, I tried to examine my heart. I reached deep in there and groped for what I could find. It was clear as noonday: I could no longer get myself to leap in joy for such news. I lost count of the times I had heard of such in the past 11 years. Until recently, I would get myself to raise my hands to worship God and be awed by such a miracle. At first, I did it believing and expecting it would soon happen to me, too. Later on, I did it because I believed it was the right thing to do. But recently, I just want to remain silent and be true to my feelings.

Have I lost faith in God that he still works miracles to this day? Have I become so bitter that I can’t get myself to praise God for such news of a miracle? Neither. I examined my heart and I found out my faith in God has not waned a bit, neither my love for my Savior Jesus Christ. They are all intact there. I know also that when I hear testimonies in church through the live webcast by brethren who have experienced such miracles FIRST-HAND (for example, a mother who prayed hard for her child’s healing from a scary illness), the Holy Spirit still touches my heart, makes me tear up, and stirs me to raise my hands and give glory to God.

I think that’s the operative word: FIRST-HAND. It should be heard first-hand and spoken not unremarkably. I know I always, always share testimonies of God’s miracles here and on my Minister of Mercy blog, so that’s second-hand for you, right? But I heard and saw them first-hand and when I share them to you, I’m praying and hoping that God will anoint my words and by His grace, touch you by them.

The other thing is, because I have not experienced such kind of miracle in my own life after waiting for 11 years – standing up from my wheelchair and walking at last – I have gradually come to the realization that it doesn’t happen that way. At least, for me. So when I hear of second-hand testimonies of such magnitude (even coming from my own husband), my heart clamps up. And I have decided I will not force myself to react in a way that is not true to my feelings. It’s just not authentic.

When we finally went to bed, my husband told me that my mood seemed to be on the heavy side. Again, I did not reply. I didn’t know what to say. As I pulled the blanket to my neck, I was thinking, How could I explain to him what’s in my heart? No, he wouldn’t understand. It’s better to not say anything.

I am learning to process spiritual things silently with the help of the Holy Spirit rather than react as usual, saying praise words and “Amens!” without my heart into it, just because they are what’s expected of me. Honestly, I’m growing weary of hearing testimonies from faraway crusades of the lame being able to walk again, just. because. it’s. not. happening. to. me. When I was still able to travel, we went to crusades, too, and 100% expected a miracle happening to me: being completely healed and able to walk normally again. But it didn’t happen to me. Although based on others’ testimonies, it happened to them: crippled but walking again. For a long time, I wrestled with God why this was so. I hurt and wept and analyzed why God was healing the crippled that came to Him the first time while He turned His face away from me. Been there. Done that.

Last night as I pondered on these things, I knew for certain I had nothing against the Lord Jesus Christ. I love and adore Him still and always will. So, I began to sing in my heart.

'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus, 
and to take Him at His word; 
just to rest upon His promise, 
and to know, "Thus saith the Lord."

What. I’m. Saying. Is. This:

I WILL BELIEVE AND LOVE AND FOLLOW AND SERVE THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WITH OR WITHOUT A MIRACLE!

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Bless the Lord! {With My Testimony}

Meditating on Psalm 134.

Behold, bless the Lord,
All you servants of the Lord,
Who by night stand in the house of the Lord!
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary,
And bless the Lord.

3 The Lord who made heaven and earth
Bless you from Zion!

The effective antidote for disappointment, discouragement, and even discontent is to remember the goodness of the Lord; to count His blessings and name them one by one. Sometimes this is hard to do, especially to those who do not want to humble down and leave that place of brooding. We can choose to either grouse or give thanks. The former brings a fleeting and false relief, but after it has vented out, we realize it doesn’t really improve our situation. The latter honors God and ushers in a blessing. Although we may not see it yet, but we can feel the prompt effect by our having a peaceful heart and mind.

The best way to conquer the negative feelings that try to trample us is to choose to bless the Lord. Bless Him in the battle as well as in the victory.

How many of you, if there is any at all, thank the Lord everyday for being able to shower, bathe, or shampoo? These tasks are so mundane most people will not give them a second thought. But for me, they are not ordinary, easy tasks, and being able to do them means a lot.

In 2010, another bout of my illness attacked me. It was more severe to the point of death. For months my oesophagus couldn’t receive food and my stomach was too weak it almost didn’t function. I only ate soft rice with beef broth. I became skin-and-bones. I was very weak I couldn’t bathe even with assistance. When my skin became itchy, I sponge-bathed it with hot water and alcohol. Washing my hair was out of the question. I couldn’t sit long, and when I lay down with my head protruding at the edge of the bed so someone could wash my long hair, I couldn’t breathe well. Scrubbing my scalp, even done by someone, would exhaust me and make me feel dizzy. So, for half a year, my hair was not washed. It became so tangled from the dust and sweat that it clumped up at the back of my head like a huge basket. My husband and the kids joked that I should not be seen by the birds, otherwise, they might make their nest on my head.

Those were the times that lightness and laughter attempted to assuage all our sadness and fears. My husband offered 2-meal fasting for over 80 days while continuing to work in the office. He, too, became emaciated. Preachers and prayer warriors from our Church came to pray over me and lay their hands on me. Gradually towards the end of the year, I recovered and regained some strength.

For the fist time in six months, my hair was washed. But it would take many washes before the basket-like clump was totally untangled. Last year, we remodelled our master’s bathroom. We made it easily accessible for my wheelchair and walker. When the renovations were completed, I began to use it to bathe and wash my hair with the assistance of my husband. That is a tremendous blessing to me! I thank Him everyday for it.

One can either question God for the suffering in the first place or bless Him for His enduring mercy and unfailing love. I will always choose the latter.

(Beautiful photo courtesy of my sister in Christ Evamarie Fetter).

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Step into Beauty

My husband was washing my hair in our bathroom one afternoon last week. As he worked up a lather and cleaned my scalp, he began to tell me about a sister in Christ, a mother about my age, who has been suffering from breast cancer. Her husband who works abroad as an engineer came home recently to bring his ailing wife to the hospital and care for her. She has grown weaker and her husband wanted to help her recover strength.

(image from Google)

I knew the couple he was talking about. The engineer husband contacted me on FB earlier telling me about his wife’s condition, and when he came home last year, he approached Felix in church and introduced himself. He is an Ilocano just like us.

As my husband rinsed my long, stringy hair, he said the couple have been in the hospital for weeks now but by God’s grace, she’s making progress. The doctors were amazed that in her advanced stage, she should already be in ICU, but she was not.

I was quiet the whole time. Washing my hair or bathing is one of the things I dread doing because it’s not comfortable for me. I just wanted to be done with it as soon as possible. I actually didn’t know what to say because Sister Sarah Advincula came to mind. I wrote about her testimony so how can I forget? In 2008 when she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, she chose to stay in the fasting house instead of going to the hospital. She surrendered her life to the Lord. For one year, she stayed there, suffering through her disease. But at the end of it, she was healed and recovered. She’s been back in the Jesus Finest Generation Choir ever since.

There are those who receive miraculous healing, and there are those who do not. There are burdens that we need to carry. I think no one is exempted from them. I pondered on these things as I endured my husband’s unrelenting scrubbing of my scalp and hair (I hate it when he does that). I wasn’t really in the mood to talk about such things seeing that I was sitting in my wheelchair while someone washed my hair. What I mean is, what can you say when you’re too weak to wash your own hair?

We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know how long we’ll be here, so, just do your best to serve the Lord however small your contribution is. Whatever we can do for God’s kingdom, just do it,” I finally managed to murmur as my husband rinsed off the thick conditioner from my hair.

Until I settled in for the live webcast of the Friday overnight service that evening, I was unusually quiet, like there were lots of things in my mind. With 10 years of illness and suffering, I’ve gotten so used to the weight and usual gloom that accompany it. By the second hour of congregational singing, I sent the kids to play upstairs. I wanted to concentrate during the solemn songs.

The worship leader sang soulfully and with anointing. Suddenly, my spirit was caught up in the glory of praise and worship. I was transported into a place of beauty and gladness. Ah, how did I ever let misgivings make me forget the glory of the Lord’s presence?  We may regularly pray, read the Bible, a devotional, write about Jesus and His words and goodness, but it’s different when we enter His sweet, holy presence. There’s just no comparing it, no describing it. And if I were stronger, I would be opening my arms wide in complete abandon, my face toward heaven, as I let my whole being be enwrapped in the glorious splendor. I know how exhilarating it is to be washed and drenched in the Savior’s love as salty tears pour out in worship. The spirit is revived and — the burdens are lifted off and troubles fade.

Don’t let us remain miserable and weighed down by trials. Enter God’s presence by praising and worshiping. Step into the beauty of the  King of kings and Lord of lords!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace!
~ Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (chorus) by Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

You can read Sis. Sarah Advincula’s amazing testimony here.

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Just Sing!

Meditating on Psalm 124.

“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,”
Let Israel now say—
2 “If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,
When men rose up against us,
3 Then they would have swallowed us alive,
When their wrath was kindled against us. (Ps. 124:1-3)

I am now reading Deuteronomy and walking through Israel’s journeyings once again as prophet Moses reviews their 40-year expedition in the wilderness. The people of God had gone through a lot:  seen the many miracles and mighty deeds of the Lord, experienced His goodness and faithful providence, witnessed His wrath and received His mercies and deliverances.

God was in all their journeyings even though they often wearied Him of their incessant murmurings. I marvel at the Lord’s patience and unrelenting faithfulness to His people to see them through no matter what.

And this God has not changed through the ages. Or is He ever going to change. He is still faithful and wonderful even in the little things. Though they are not of the magnitude of parting the Red Sea or making water gush out of the rock, His miracles can still be witnessed and received as long as we keep our eyes and hearts open to them.

I share with you this testimony; I pray it will bless you as it did me.

Bro. Joseph is one of the younger members of the Jesus Finest Generation Choir but that’s not an obstacle to his being often sent to the outreach stations of our Church in the far provinces to teach the choir there. He helps prepare for church anniversaries, crusades, and Bible Studies.

The night before his trip to Singapore (his very first foreign trip) to assist in the preparation of the outreach’s first anniversary, he posted an update on Facebook thanking the Lord for the opportunity. But the next day, his update was a sad story: he was not allowed to travel to Singapore and was sent home. He was stopped at Immigration due to lack of other supporting documents. His reason for travel was – he was invited by Church brethren to teach the choir in Singapore Outreach. That’s what his papers said. But it was not enough. Bro. Joseph was dejected. (I could almost feel his heartbreak).

The same day, he started to fast. About 2 weeks later, he was sent by the Church management to try again. The church anniversary was only a day away.

When the immigration officer saw him, he said, “You again? I told you you can’t go to Singapore. You lack supporting papers.” Bro. Joseph tried to explain again that he’s a choir member and his reason for traveling to Singapore is to teach the choir. The officer found Bro. Joseph’s application and when he looked at it to prove his point, he was surprised and couldn’t believe what he saw.

“This wasn’t here before. Why didn’t you tell me that your application was annotated?” Bro. Joseph was dumbfounded; he didn’t know what the officer was talking about. It turned out that another officer stamped on his application: “Allow this person to go to Singapore.” Who would have written it? The officer was just too baffled to argue.

Shaking his head in confusion and acquiescence, the officer asked, “Are you really a choir member? Will you sing?” To which Bro. Joseph gladly, albeit shyly, yielded.

You were there all along just like a song
Somewhere in the back of my mind
There all along leading me on
Now my eyes can see You standing there
Waiting to set me free.*
 

Hallelujah! I’m still touched writing these lines.

The officer told him, “Alright. You may go to Singapore.”

When Bro. Joseph testified this in the pulpit after he arrived from Singapore, he couldn’t stop the tears. As he spoke and wiped his tears, I could almost feel what he was feeling. He probably felt so sorry for himself to go through that. If it had not been the Lord who was on [my] side… He was probably thinkingIf it had not been the Lord who was gracious and faithful to him, he wouldn’t have been victorious. After his testimony, he sang to the Lord, crying in gratitude.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth. (v. 8)

(*Chorus of the song Bro. Joseph sang to the immigration officer; Photo courtesy of cousin Bill Raras).

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God’s Presence Through the Word

Meditating on Psalm 119:81-112.

My soul faints for Your salvation,
But I hope in Your word.
82 My eyes fail from searching Your word,
Saying, “When will You comfort me?”

Unless Your law had been my delight,
I would then have perished in my affliction. (Ps. 119:81,82,92)

Psalm 119 essentially talks about God’s laws, precepts, statutes, and testimonies. In other words, and as we apply the psalm in the present, it talks about the Word of God, the words that proceeded out of His mouth which were faithfully recorded in both old and new testaments and became the Holy Bible. The psalmist, in his extreme need, hopes in God’s Word, in His promises, and not on anything else. He diligently searches God’s Word, looking for the fulfilment of the promise which is in it. By holding on to and delighting in God’s promises, he is delivered and doesn’t perish in his affliction. What great light, penetrating from long ago, does this bring us!

The psalms teach us that in everything, in all our trials and tribulations, may they be diseases of our bodies, problems that break our hearts, or great dangers we face – we can put our hope and trust in God’s Word, in His promises. This is the one thing that makes us wiser than the wisdom of the world.

Oh, how I love Your law [Word]!
It is my meditation all the day.
98 You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies;
For they are ever with me.
99 I have more understanding than all my teachers,
For Your testimonies are my meditation. (vv. 97-99, annotation mine)

The Word of God teaches, rebukes, corrects, and trains us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). It heals our diseases. He sent His word and healed them… (Ps. 107:20). But it is also a channel through which we can feel God’s powerful presence. We praise and worship God to enter into His presence and feel Him moving mightily in us. But we cannot always sing with strength, especially those of us who are sick and weak.

There are seasons in my illness that my abdomen becomes too weak to vocalize. For weeks, even months, I cannot sing praises in my private worship time, but I compensate that in immersing more in the Word, morning and evening. I honor and worship the Lord as I soak up His Word, verse upon verse, passage upon passage, chapter upon chapter. There are times that He grips me so suddenly in His presence as I plough through His Word, that my spirit is caught up in His embrace. And I would stop in the middle of reading, raise my hands and worship, and bask in His glorious presence, tears cascading.

One night many months ago, when my son Tim was suffering from an asthma-like cough and my husband was away praying and fasting, I felt, heard in my spirit, and saw in my mind, the Lord talking to me. In the early evening, I read Him between the pages, during the ministry of prophet Elisha. I was so in it – the places, His words, His power, His presence. As if I was there myself. When later that night, Tim sat up and told me that he couldn’t breathe, I raised my hand towards heaven and cried out to God. As I prayed and begged Him to help Tim, I saw Him in my mind (my eyes were tightly closed) and He spoke to me.

“You spent time with Me tonight. You delighted in My words and works. You know Me, who I Am, what I can do. I will not fail you. I am with you. See, I am here. Just so very near you.” (Choking back tears). I was weeping because of the Lord’s holy presence and His words. And when I laid my hands on my son to cast out his sickness, I saw in my mind that it was God’s prophet Elisha who was laying his hands on my son. Before the night was over, Tim began to recover. Hallelujah!

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (v. 105)

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