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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On Trudging, Patience, and Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Steadfastness

I should be writing about joy. I was so excited to pursue the subject that I had begun researching and listing Bible verses. I wasn’t only inspired, my hope received a fresh brushing up also. For days and nights, the words formed themselves into sentences and the sentences arranged themselves into paragraphs in my mind. “Okay,” I told myself. “Joy it will be for Writing Monday.”

steadfastness

Then Sunday came and I found myself lying in a prone position (again!), waiting for my labored breathing to ease up. The suffering was long and wearying. It was the antithesis of my fervent prayers for wellness and strength I particularly prayed for that day. “I can’t write about joy. At least, not at this time,” I thought as I fought the negative emotions that were hovering at the doors of my mind. “Shall I be angry? Shall I be discouraged? Shall I give up already?” These emotions are old, as far as I’m concerned, and even they have lost their appeal to me. Before I completely gave up on those self-defeating thoughts, a pained question passed over my mind, “Are You walking with me, Lord?”

My thoughts shifted to: “I will write about a God-honoring life.” My mind toyed with the idea as I waited for good breathing. But after a while, I gave it up. That, too, seemed a Herculean task (as far as inspiration is concerned) when placed side by side with my suffering body. “I pray that my life will always honor God however hard I’m going through. But I can’t write about that now, either,” I thought with finality and a sigh.

Suddenly, the scene on the Prophet Elijah fleeing from Jezebel unfolded in my mind. I am no prophet but I wanted to compare my situation with his. He had been very zealous for God, and now, they sought to kill him. He sat under a broom tree and sulked and wished that he could just die. Elijah waited but God wasn’t in the strong wind; He wasn’t in the earthquake either; neither was He in the fire. Then, he heard His still, small voice. (See 1 Kings 19).

In the midst of my strong winds of suffering, I couldn’t write about joy; neither could I write about a subject as lofty as ‘a God-honoring life’ while fierce shaking continues to jolt me in my long, fiery trial. Then a still, small voice whispered, steadfastness. “Yes, maybe that I can write about,” my heart answered.

Steadfastness is the state of being “firm in purpose, resolution, faith, attachment, etc.” To be steadfast is to be unwavering. Yet, not all Christians are steadily strong and immovable, especially during season of hard testing. I myself have encountered all sorts of challenges against my steadfastness, but though these have tried to topple me (at times, the struggle is so great to the point of a temporary spiritual crisis), the Lord has always held me fast.

When I said, “My foot is slipping,”
    your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me,
    your consolation brought me joy. (Ps. 94:18-19 NIV)

He is faithful to His promise:

I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. (Heb. 13:5)

But though His promises stand, we need to do our part. In fact, much work needs to be done: unceasing prayers (sometimes with fasting), being rooted in the Word, closely walking in the Spirit, and never losing sight of God’s perfect will. But sometimes we grow faint even with prayer, especially when there is only barren land as far as our eyes can see. In trials, patience tends to thin out into a fragile film that it is just hard to take hold of it without it breaking in our hands.

The Lord knows it, that’s why it was necessary for Him to tell a story about being persistent in prayer (see Luke 18:1-8). Also, St. James teaches that the development of patience is the very purpose of trials and reminds us that there is a blessing at the end of our faithful endurance.

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4)

My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful. (James 5: 10-12)

Below is a simple diagram we can remember in cultivating steadfastness in our lives with the Holy Spirit and Word of God acting as catalysts:

Perseverance + patience = steadfastness

Steadfastness is a combination of these but what does it really look like? I wish that, for me, it always looked like a young maiden in the peak of health who sings praises to God like there’s no tomorrow, who worships without any reservation, and who humbly bends the knees in fervent prayer, steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that [her] labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58); she walks with a spring in her step! But truth be told, my steadfastness sometimes takes on the form of a middle-aged woman, stooped due to gnawing worries and anxieties that are never completely banished, and who trudges through life as if walking on sodden sand.

That’s why we should always desire to seek revival for our souls. We need not wait for a Churchwide revival. On our own, in our private worship, we can be revived. That is the desire and will of God for us.

For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. (Rom. 14:17)

The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Making this as our guidepost, we will not lose sight of the kingdom of God, and in fact, we will learn to live at the center of it.

One Sunday service, I was gifted with an epiphany. When the preacher said that God had made everything perfect in paradise where Adam and Eve were supposed to have lived all their lives, a vision of a kingdom-centered life opened up in the scenery of my mind like Eden herself flinging her shining, gilded doors wide open:

What if we lived like we were already in the kingdom of God where everything is perfect? Then we would live in His perfect will, His perfect love, peace, and joy.

In God’s kingdom, fear can’t exist. There, the devil wouldn’t have a foothold in our lives. What if, unlike Eve, we would not listen to the devil’s temptings and lies but live on the side of God’s perfectness? Life in the kingdom, here and now, would be filled with joy.

In God’s paradise, fights and hurts do not exist. If we live as kingdom people, these things would no longer matter to us. We can easily forgive and forget and go to sleep in peace with a smile gracing our lips.

We can live as kingdom people through the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells in us.. These scenarios are all possible for our citizenship is in heaven (see Phil. 3:20) and God raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (see Eph. 2:6).

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Journey with Jesus,

The Virtue of Patience

I am not a naturally patient person. I believe it comes with having a type A personality and being a perfectionist. I can hardly bear mistakes, delays, failures – both my own and others’. I can hardly stand sloooow pace. When I do something, I always try to do it precisely and snappily and expect others to do the same. Confession: I can barely veil my impatience with people of very slow comprehension or hard understanding. Sometimes, I put my impatience into words (may the Lord forgive me and help me in this :( ).

(image source)

I’ve been doing my best to be patient. It’s a constant in my daily prayers. Meaning, I’m not there yet. I get impatient with my husband, kids, and maids. But,

Love is patient, love is kind. (1 Cor. 13:4 NIV)

(Sigh).

I started with this book The Love Dare and the first day dares the reader to be patient, to not say a single negative thing to his/her spouse. I had been seeing this book whenever I visited christianbook.com or Amazon to browse for books to buy, but I never got interested. That is, until we watched the movie Fireproof. I was inspired by it and after more than a month of delaying, I requested my husband to buy me a copy at a local Bible bookstore. Good thing they have available stock.

Reading the first chapter, I was reminded again that love is patient. Well, we know this too well, don’t we? We memorized it, but to me, it seems that it has become less powerful than my temper. The problem with Christians who struggle with patience (like me) is that – we don’t commit to practicing it assiduously. We tend to react in the heat of the moment and even though, for a fleeting second, the Bible’s Love Chapter flashes in our minds with the hope to divert us from our momentary provocation – we ignore it. We even reason out deep in our minds that we are entitled to be impatient at that very moment because —- the other simply rubs us the wrong way!

I am guilty on all counts, but I think the The Love Dare book is affecting me in a good way. Yes, I am taking the dare seriously with hopes that it can do wonders to my day-to-day relationship with my husband, and bring a lasting bliss in the long run.

Before I began the dare, I was thinking it would be easy since from the day we moved to our newly-remodelled bedroom, my husband and I have been very close night and day. We were like honeymooners. We were spontaneously reviving the fervor of our love to each other – talking and being intimate.

But came the first day of the dare and I found myself like I was perilously balancing my composure on a thin line. I began preparations for my baking. I had mixed my lemon juice with the milk to make buttermilk. It was early in the afternoon, my ingredients were complete, but just before the words left my lips to tell the maid to preheat the oven, my husband texted me from the office asking me if I had P700 to pay for the gas which was yet to be delivered. I looked up at our maid and quietly asked, “You mean we don’t have gas right now? That we can’t heat the oven?”

“No, ma’am. I already advised sir Felix this morning,” Lei answered. I like her personality and service, so after telling her that she should have told me before we started, I held my tongue. Patience.

I texted back my husband to tell him I will ask someone to encash in the bank (just outside our village’s gate) to pay the gas delivery. He then texted me that he was going to call for delivery to which I answered, “ASAP!!!”

After many minutes had passed, he texted again telling me to look for the phonebook which was placed on the round table and look for this gas delivery and call and… And, and, and! I was sure I was going to lose my patience! Imagine the delay, while my ingredients sat there waiting? Why did he wait for about a quarter of an hour before telling me that there was no gas to be delivered unless I call them? I felt impatient (uh-oh!) as I turned the pages of the phonebook looking for the gas delivery number. I was tempted to text back my husband and tell him my complaints, but the dare was at my back taunting me. I did not text him.

One by one, I turned the pages of the phonebook (no, it’s not alphabetical). Patience. Patience. It was like a chant as I fought the urge to shut it close altogether. Got the number, called up, and waited patiently for delivery. I didn’t expect the refreshing feeling not giving in to my temper brought!

But it didn’t end there. Later, when I was trying to transfer my freshly-baked cinnamon coffeecake bread into the platter, I asked my husband to help me but he couldn’t quite unentangle himself from his new Sony Experia. “I can’t believe you can just sit there so engrossed in your gadget…”, I stopped, shook my head like one who was defeated and murmured, “I’m sorry.”

It’s never easy to be patient in the midst of challenging circumstances. But if we really want change to happen in our lives, we need to seriously commit. This morning when I woke up, this verse was in my mind. I thank the Lord for strengthening my resolve to practice patience.

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:37-39, emphasis added)

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Journey with Jesus,

God Sends Us Teachers

I’ve proven this many times, that when I earnestly pray for something to happen in my life, for instance, for me to be more long-suffering, the Lord will give me a tremendous challenge, like a mountain to climb, as His answer to my prayer. No, He doesn’t just put it into my heart, but brings me to a situation where I’m face-to-face with the “teacher” and I am to learn my lesson the hard way.

And oh, for those devotional bloggers like me, haven’t you experienced that when you wrote something to encourage and edify, you will then find yourself in a situation where you’re challenged doubly hard from what you’ve written? And before we blow it, the warning signs stop us dead in our tracks and yes, we realize with much dismay that we are being tested whether we can practice what we preach or not!

The best and most precious lessons in life may be heard in the pulpit, but they are always learned outside of it, that is, in everyday life. The best teachers may not be those who stand in the pulpit, but those people that God puts into our lives to make us learn, whether we like it or not. They could be our spouses, our kids, a neighbor, our employee or our employer, a colleague, a friend, or even a stranger.

Recently, we have been praying earnestly for God to give us maids according to our requirements. But the agencies we dealt with gave us ones that really stretched our patience. For months, different kinds of maids marched in and out of our home, as mutual dissatisfaction was felt between us and them. It was really frustrating to find out that there are hardly maids nowadays who are well-trained and who work with dedication. There were even some who treated us badly, despite of us treating them well.

I couldn’t help asking what is really wrong. I know we’ve been given the wrong persons, but still I wanted to understand and maybe then, it would work.

I can honestly say that I had reached the end of my rope, that I.am.finally.done.with.maids.from.the.agencies. But just when we think that we can no longer contain, God stretches us some more, making a room, and that thing that we think has no more hope in us, God paves a new way, a better way. And when I stopped to consider, I realized that all these spell G-R-O-W-T-H. The Lord does not only teach us through difficult people and situations, He makes us grow through them! Growth in faith and in love is ALWAYS a good thing!

So, we get another maid, and when I observed that she is not well-trained in homemaking (for she doesn’t even know how to sweep well; this would have easily irritated me – really, there is a need for me to deal with my “type A” personality!), I let love flow instead. I tried to understand that here is a young mother who needs to work for her three-year old baby; here is a young woman who needs to be taught and trained and treated with respect and love and much patience.

So, you see, it’s the Lord paving a better way, the way of the Spirit. The Lord always leads us to the narrow road. It is hard, but if we yield to His leading, He also will provide the strength and inspiration necessary to deal with such a difficult challenge, and the end of it is peace. So, our family opens up streams of kindness and care for her, and her doubting heart opens up to us and she begins to feel — happy with her work.

Then the Lord rewards us by giving us another maid (for our household needs two), that is, according to all our requirements. My beloved mother brings her to us from our province, exactly what I’ve been praying for.

Our family has definitely learned a most valuable lesson: the most excellent way is the way of love. Putting into practice Romans 12 in everyday:

Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Therefore

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him a drink;
For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” 

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-21)

Related:

My gratitude list ~ thankful to the Lord for:

  • this song His Strength is Perfect sung by the beloved pastoral workers in church on Father’s Day. It’s just perfect, it reminded me of God’s enduring mercies.
  • Finest Choir singing Agnus Dei which made my spirit soaring again; the powerful presence of the Lord lingering made worshiping beyond words, making spirit and body tremble, hardly containing the glory of it all! We praised up a storm!
  • His manifest presence in everyday – my durable riches I wouldn’t trade for the world! People of the world take joy in their material wealth, but I take great joy in the Spirit of the Lord!