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.

If you have been blessed by your visit here, I’d love for you to like Our Healing Moments on Facebook and connect with me there. To not miss any posts, I also invite you to subscribe below. Thank you!

Linking up with Tell His StoryWise WomenCoffee for Your HeartFaith Filled Friday.

Live Full or Live Empty

Most people would think the answer is obvious. One is how life should be lived while the other you’ll do your utmost to avoid. That is according to the world. We have been educated by the world to live full. Ads aim to touch on this facet of mankind, that desire to live a full life: posters depicting beautiful homes and grand vacations, magazines and the Internet offering a plethora of pleasures beyond one’s imaginations and an experience of a lifetime. To the world, living life to the full is living without limits, be it acquisition of material wealth, shopping ’til you drop, seeing the world, pampering and lavishing oneself through cosmetic procedures and supplements to prolong youth and vitality …the list is endless.

(image from Google)

And living empty? It is not what you think it is.

What if we are called by God to live another kind of adventure, one that is foreign to the ways of the world? One which Christ actually lived? What if the will of God is not for us to enjoy life to the fullest but to give ourselves to Him and others? You would think that’s a grand quest and one which we can’t possibly attain. It is grand. But all things are possible with God.

If you asked me these questions ten years ago at the height of my career, foreign travels, and shopping to the max, I would have balked. And if you had forced me to leave that life, you would have carried me pummelling and violently flailing. So, I understand that it’s quite impossible to make the world live otherwise.

I have been faithfully following the Lord since I received Him as my Lord and King and personal Savior ten years ago. My life He has turned upside down whether I liked it or not. There had been resistance, you see. But who hath resisted his will? For ten years He’s been severing my affections for worldly things and showing me how to live according to His ways.

Now I’m finally getting it, though the process has been really slow. God is calling us to live empty. He showed us how when He walked on earth. He emptied Himself of the grandeur of heaven and came to live with us. He emptied Himself of His crown and His royal robes and came and wore dusty sandals and homespun tunic. He emptied Himself when He poured out His life as an offering for our sins so we might live.

And we are to live like Christ lived. To be conformed to His image.

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. (Rom. 8:29, emphasis mine)

To live empty is not to live with a gaping hole deep within us bereft of all hope and life’s meaning. To live empty is to be a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [our] reasonable service (Rom. 12:1), poured out for others like a drink offering. To live empty is to offer up everything you have within you for the service and glory of God. Every talent, every gift, every prayer, every heartbeat. Whatever is in your hand, a loaf of bread and a piece of fish or a basket of them. You offer willingly and the Lord will multiply them.

To live empty is to be continuously opening our hands and hearts to God to receive His grace. To live empty is to be endlessly filled by God with things that cannot be valued: peace, joy, love, spiritual power, wisdom, anointing.

So choose: live full or live empty?

If you have been blessed by your visit here, please like Our Healing Moments on Facebook and connect with me there. Thank you!

I might be linking up with these lovely blogs.

Journey with Jesus,

Sweet Scent Rising

A fellow Christian blogger came here to visit for the first time and left me a heartwarming message in the comments section. (I want my readers to know that she is not the only one who leaves me messages that bleed of blessings. There are definitely many others, like-minded, who bless me with their love, prayers, and encouraging words). She left a fragrant trail in her wake and I followed it all the way back to her blog like a bee finding its way to a meadow covered with flowers. And I wondered, “What if we lived a life like that, like a flower effusing a sweet scent to its surroundings? Maybe then the world would be a less selfish place to live in.”

This reminded me of Elisabeth Elliot’s book A Path Through Suffering which I read recently. Reading it, I was introduced to Lilias Trotter, an artist and missionary to Africa in the Victorian era. Ms. Elliot essentially based her discussions on Lilias Trotter’s sketches, essays, and analogies about suffering and the life of a flower, and to me, it was absolutely refreshing. One of my favorites in the book was this:

[God] will so govern the events of our lives, down to the smallest detail, as to provide for us the conditions which may make us fruitful. It is not for our sake but for the sake of others. The beauty of the flower is not for itself. It offers itself to God’s sunshine and rain, gives its fragrance to any who pass by, but it must wither and die before the fruit can be produced.

A Path Through Suffering, page 59

Gives its fragrance to any who pass by. To this I wrote a note at the margin: “Yes, like a sweet-smelling fragrance that goes up to God. Meaning, my life should be a blessing unto others. My complaints, my whinings, will not bless the people around me.”

I read the book at a time when I was feeling restless about my situation: prolonged illness and incapacity imprisoning me within the walls of our home. I wanted to really learn to “die to self” and to my fondest dreams and to bow down to the will and purposes of the Lord. Maybe then I would find true fulfilment and contentment.

I can think about two instances in the Bible where a fragrant offering is mentioned. The gifts the apostle Paul received to which he uttered: They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God (part of Phil. 4:18). And Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with the very costly ointment of spikenard. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume (part of John 12:3).

I believe every fragrant offering comes with a costly sacrifice. Whether we are giving of ourselves or of ours, the sweet-smelling savor that rises up to God is one that stems from a genuine heart and a purely selfless motive. Sometimes, however small the act, like a word spoken in due season, it brings a huge amount of comfort to the recipient.

This makes me pondering about my own life and how I am walking with the Lord and serving Him through serving others. Am I giving off a sweet fragrance that fills the home, the Church, the community? Am I leaving a pleasant scent behind me in my associations and conversations with those who are still finding their way to the Lord Jesus Christ and true salvation? I know that there is still a lot of work to be done in me.

“The beauty of the flower is not for itself” wrote Ms. Elliot. Yes, our transformed lives are for the glory of the Lord and for His service, how we will live this life for Him and for others.

(Winner of my 3rd blogging anniversary giveaway is Lory Sy).

(Photo courtesy of my good friend Perla Frisberg of Malmo, Sweden, and edited at picmonkey.com).

If you have been blessed by your visit here, please like Our Healing Moments on Facebook and connect with me there. Thank you!

I might be linking up with these lovely blogs.

Journey with Jesus,

Cause Your Face to Shine

Meditating on Psalm 80

I sit in front of my laptop, not really knowing what to write for Journey Through the Psalms Friday. I had planned to write about how the Lord Jesus had shown His marvellous light to the youth who had come to the Jesus Miracle Youth Crusade Freedom Concert with so much expectations in their hearts. They had heeded the call and humbly come, hundreds of them. And the Lord Jesus did not fail them. Yes, gloriously He shone forth to the hearts and souls of these young people and filled them with His love, forgiveness, and Spirit. He filled me, too.

I wanted to write about all that, but today, the Spirit seemed to be leading me to a different path. Just a few hours ago, I felt so weary and my spirit was down. Husband and kids had gone to the Planetarium and Robot Zoo, a trip which I planned, and as usual, I was home alone with the maid. I baked chocolate cookies but they didn’t come out as expected. I just wanted to cry, not just because I was left alone neither because the flourless cookies turned out to be one messy, sticky heap. I know it is something more.

Restore us, O God;
Cause Your face to shine,
And we shall be saved! (Psalm 80:3)

I had thought the straying youth needed this – for God to shine on them so that they will be saved. But I realized that I needed Him to shine on me just as much as the youth did. I had been wanting and earnestly working to be freed from all personal desires and wants and dreams and plans – to die to all these – and just desire God and what He wants for my life. I need His love to complete what’s lacking in me, specifically my love. Without Him expanding, deepening, growing my love, I am just a miserable woman fighting her own daily battles and barely winning.

Return, we beseech You, O God of hosts;
Look down from heaven and see,
And visit this vine. (v. 14)

They arrive. The kids run to me saying, “Thank you, Mom”. Then I know what’s filling my soul with sadness: I just want to let my life be a pleasing offering to God who gave me everything I own. I just want to let go of all the thoughts about self – unrealized dreams, unwell body – and be an unwavering light to these young people; show and give them Christ by how I live Him.

Cause your face to shine on thine servant, O God! Strip me off of all that offend and clothe me with thine righteousness and kindness.

The tears fall. I hope that I have touched heaven’s throne of grace.

Journey with Jesus,