Stop, Look, Listen

Before I said my prayers one night, after a day full of hardships as was the usual flow of my life, I realized that God’s favor may not be upon me. That should be it, what else could be the reason why I am not getting fully well, I am not being freed from suffering, and my fervent prayers for healing are not answered? In the morning, I would pray fervently, full of faith, for a miraculously healing. But just after breakfast, I would be gasping for breath like a fish out of water. My prayers for healing are clearly not answered. But I haven’t been really facing that fact because I thought that if I did, it meant that I was losing faith in God. And I know that without faith, it is impossible to please Him.

"Pockets of Quiet Places"

“Pockets of Quiet Places”

But that night, I needed to face the glaring truth: God’s favor is not upon my life as far as my healing is concerned. I receive answers to my other prayers: healing of family members, their protection, their success, their special petitions. But when it comes to my own personal petition, there seems to be a standoff. A 14-year standoff. For years I’ve been imploring the Lord to bring fresh change to my life, but He isn’t budging an inch. In the meantime, years pass and my life goes on: daily sickness and suffering, unable to travel even short distances. I’m always left behind. I have to plod through all the difficulties and challenges of my situation in each and everyday.

That night, I wanted to stop what I am doing: crowding God with relentless, importunate prayers, affirmations, declarations of faith, and the endlessly looking for His gifts tucked in everyday (so that I will always have a  reason to be grateful for). These are all good things, but I thought that I needed to stop the striving, the wrestling (Jacob’s kind), the advancing, the pounding and bombarding, the relentless fighting, the always-positive-always-powerful-always-full-of-faith stance.

I just wanted to stop and be still and know that He is God.

I wanted to experience Him even without my striving.

When I suddenly decide to keep silent, would I be changing God’s plan? I mean, when I decide to be still for a day, no striving in prayer, no nothing (but a heightened looking and listening for God’s movement), would God’s plan for the day come crashing down?

I realized that maybe I have been drowning God’s voice and movement because of my incessant begging.

That night, I had the desire to lie low and let God do what He desires to do. I want to just be quiet where I am and wait for Him, if He’s coming and what He’s going to do. I want to observe closely in a day how He will move in my life and would I be able to perceive it? I want to stop prattling about His “blessings” on my life that I don’t really see or not that big or great but still thankful for because I should always be thankful. I should always be thanking, honoring, glorifying Him. There’s nothing wrong with that, except that it’s kind of forced sometimes, especially when I don’t see change in my sick and suffering life.

What if I cease doing all that and wait for Him to move in my life? To see if He will, to prove that He is looking and listening all this time?

To stop, be still, look, and listen. It is like asking. “Are You there, God?”

The following day, I still prayed and read my Bible, but I didn’t pound on heaven’s door; I didn’t try to pry God’s arm from His bosom to do what I needed Him to do for me. What I did, I watched. And waited.

I watched for His coming. I watched if He would manifest Himself to me. How? In what ways? I didn’t know. But I hoped that I would know if it was Him.

This reminded me of the prophet Elijah when he ran to the wilderness to escape Jezebel’s wrath.

A great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;

And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.

(From 1 Kings 19)

Thankfully, nothing of this sort happened on that day or the day after just to show God’s presence. But a few days afterwards, when there should have been a good reason to be angry and deeply hurt and an important relationship taking on another blow to the point of breaking, a still small voice whispered:

“Let go of pride. When you let go of it, you won’t have any reason to harbor anger or hurt. You are not supposed to get hurt when life seems not fair or even harsh. You are a child of God, daughter of the King of kings, a citizen of heaven, an heir of eternal life. Though you live here, you don’t belong here. You belong to Me.

“When others hurt you, treats you unkindly or even cruel to you, you don’t have to contend. You don’t have to explain or defend yourself or reason out to prove that you’re right and the other wrong. I know and see everything and I will put things aright.”

I let go of pride (or any likeness of it). I let go of the need or even the right to prove I was right.

When pride is slain, love flows in unobstructed. Love flows in and suddenly, we see clearly. We see the things we cannot see while we are striving. We see the face of love, like the gates of the kingdom of heaven flung open. We see the light shining through, melts all coldness and hardness and hurts.

Love expands and grows within and we see only the face of the Savior, always there loving us, even when we can’t perceive it.

Love shone when I most needed it. God manifested Himself by slaying the pride in my heart so that I would only know love. He manifested Himself by setting me free, not from my sickness and suffering, but from holding on to the right to be proven right.

This meekness and lowliness, things the Lord Jesus wants us to learn from Him, beget more love. Love, a surprise gift from a most unlikely situation. Love begets more love. I received it in full.

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I Wish I Could Tell You

I balance my 9″ x 12″ Saunders Waterford watercolor paper block on my lap (I paint in bed now). I reach out for the masking tape, my eyes and back drooping, heavy from hurt, sadness, and the burden of sickness and suffering. My arms and hands are weak aggravated by the wounds of angry words and accusations. But I want to start to paint because it is an escape. It is a place where I may find acceptance, peace and joy. It is a gift from God and it is mine alone. My world. My friend.

A painting from last year. "Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand." That Queen Anne teacup duo is a gift from an IG teacup seller. The Lord loves and blesses us in many wonderful, delightful ways.

A painting from last year. “Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” That Queen Anne teacup duo is a gift from an IG teacup seller. The Lord loves and blesses us in many wonderful, delightful ways.

I line the edges of the block with the masking tape, tears pooling in my eyes but don’t spill. It is the soul that weeps. I lift the pencil to draw on the white smooth surface of the paper and I feel it descending upon me, this old acquaintance: self-pity.

I have just recovered from physical difficulties, wrapping myself in my pink flannel blanket as my insides trembled. I am grateful that with the warmth of my blanket and the peace of God that passes understanding, my body recovered (once again as countless times before!) and the angry words inflicted upon my heart and soul were momentarily forgotten.

Earlier, I woke up with the thrilling anticipation of doing something (though not that adventurous) I knew would at least lift up my spirits. I was looking forward to the bright possibilities of the day. My body wasn’t that “good” (my kind of good), but I wanted to subject myself into the thrill. To the hungry soul, every bitter thing sweet.

But it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped.

I wish I could tell you that only love and compassion surround a sick person. I wish I could tell you that in a Christian’s life, there is only fruitfulness in the Spirit, number one of which is love.

I wish I could tell you that only healing words are released towards a suffering one, a hand that blesses with its touch, a look that speaks of love, and thoughts of genuine care.

I wish I could tell you that there is only the kindness of four while they bear their sick friend in a cot to bring to the Healer, eager to scale up the wall, hauling the cot with the sick person in it to reach the roof so that from there, they could dangle their burden in front of the One who could make him well.

I wish I could tell you there is only fervent, sacrificial love among brethren.

I wish I could tell you there’s only this:

Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification [uplifting], that it may impart grace [compassion, goodness, kindness, love] to the hearers.

 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted…

(Selections from Ephesians 4).

But I can’t. For there is also the poor woman who had an issue of blood 12 years and who was alone in her suffering. How sad and silent her world had been! For with her kind of affliction, she was considered unclean. Understandably, she was shunned. She was so alone that no one would even care to walk with her to search for the Healer. She had no one to send to Him and say, “Lord, please come and heal my wife/daughter/sister/friend”. We know that there was no husband or mother or sibling or friend that was mentioned. She was alone. And in her sickness and weakness, she had to crawl and creep behind Him who could end all her miseries.

And you remember also the crippled man who had been in that situation 38 years? He had no one to bring him to the pool when the water was troubled. So he never had the chance to even dip his toes into the water, let alone swim there to be healed.

He had no one who cared. That is, until Jesus.

Do you think that it would be far better if the heart learned to not be hurt by any external stimuli? But how? Unless the heart becomes numb, which is a worse thing. Or maybe when the heart has grown and expanded so wide that it could swallow up any hurts, like scarlet paint spreading through water. But I believe that the heart was made to feel, whether joy or pain. It’s part of being human.

When we find ourselves heartbroken, a song finds its way to our hearts. And so this song finds its way to mine.

Praise His Name

When you’re up against a wall
And your mountain seems so tall
And you realize that life’s not always fair
You can run away and hide
Let the old man decide
Or you can change your circumstances with a prayer

When everything falls apart
Praise His Name
And when you have a broken heart
Just raise your hands and say
Lord, you’re all I need
You’re everything to me
And you’ll take the pain away

When it seems you’re all alone
Praise His Name
When you feel you can’t go on
Just raise your hands and say
Greater is He that is within me
You can praise the hurt away
If you’ll just praise His Name

Ohhh,
You can overcome
By the blood of the lamb
And by the word of your testimony
You’ll see the darkness go
As your faith begins to grow
You’re not alone, so how can you be lonely

When we find ourselves bereft of compassion from others, there is One who is really compassionate to us. The One who gave His all on the cross.

I believe that it is from the sparseness of love that hurts sprout. All kinds of problems arise when there is lack of love. Faults look big when love is small, remember?

But we are never far from love, for if we belong to Christ, we belong to love. When we abide in Him, we abide in love.

And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16, emphasis mine)

So abide. He will come to our Bethesdas. Or when He passes by, we could crawl up behind Him to touch even His garment. There is always healing at the end.

Amen and amen!

Here’s the song, the current theme song of my life :) .

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The Blessing of Ordinary Days

On a Sunday evening, I open my prayer journal in a sudden need of connecting amid the heaviness of my heart. All day long, suffering has been unrelenting, making me feel battered and spent. And at the end of the day when dusk settles in, darkness seems to settle in my soul as well. So I write. I write of the gloom and hopelessness that threaten to invade my heart and soul, that make one not to know what to do or how to go on. Or how to keep on living in the light. I end my prayer with:

Please help me. Only You can do something for me.

Still not well and strong enough to paint decently :). Dandelions for my blog theme today.

Still not well and strong enough to paint decently :). Dandelions for my blog theme today.

Sometimes, that is all that we can do. Cry for help.

I close my journal with a heavy sigh and turn towards my husband. I tell him about the state of my heart. The fear of losing hope, of losing joy, of losing the light in my eyes and soul and dwelling in darkness. Tears fall. Tim comes near, he hugs and kisses me. He wants to let me know I am loved and cherished and precious. Felix makes light of the situation but Tim rebukes him, “Dad! Don’t make a joke. This is nothing funny!”

The wisdom of a 10-year old boy!

Of course this is nothing funny. But father and son then team up to strengthen the mother. And this mother re-enters the light. I smile through my tears.

The following morning, Felix leaves for the airport. Cosmetics convention in Bangkok, Thailand. I would have loved him to be with us, it’s the kids’ term break anyway. But work.

I am a worrier. I hate that I am but I can’t help it. I have also other afflictions like nervousness and anxiety and panic attacks. These I acquired with my illness. But I fight them all with tons of prayers. I have prayed weeks before Felix would leave for Bangkok. And on the Monday that he leaves, I submerge myself in prayer. The demons of worry and panic attacks cannot get near.

The blessing of ordinary days (ordinary in that they are not days wrought with wonder or leisure or excitement) is to keep still and trust and rest in the Lord.

It is vacation and most people we know are away having a grand time. But the kids and I are holed up at home, barely exchanging a few words.

Melanie, a sister in Christ whose daughter we send to school, comes to assist us and cook our meals. She brings her 6-year old son. He and Tim play. Tim teaches him simple English words. He gives him his old toy.

The blessing of ordinary days is to see God’s care and love through other people.

In the afternoon, we cook pasta and prepare vegetable salad, then I invite the kids around our small mobile table stationed in our bedroom extension. While we divide portions, scoop sauce, and drizzle parmesan, I tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ and His life of modesty and simplicity. Of how He wants us to learn of Him for He is meek and lowly. This in the atmosphere of our not being able to get away and have a marvellous vacation somewhere.

I tell them that maybe the Lord is teaching us (them, especially) to have humble and grateful hearts. I then ask each one what they know of this: to be humble and grateful. I let them see what we do have and be grateful for every one of them.

The blessing of ordinary days is to remember the Lord’s teachings and learn of Him, of tucking Him and His Word into our hearts so that we continue to grow and be fruitful.

The next day (after recovering from a nasty attack of my illness), I watch this short Christian film. It’s a story about a shepherd boy who is partially crippled. He lives alone with his mother. Though his right shoulder and leg hurt constantly, he needs to go to the hills to pasture the sheep that they don’t even own. One night, he encounters the Lord Jesus Himself but he doesn’t know it’s Him. It’s supposed to be “Christmas”, the night the Savior was born 30 years before. They are in the same hill country where the angel announced glad tidings of great joy to the shepherds working the cold night shift. The boy’s father was one of those shepherds.

They start to talk. The boy shares his water and dinner of bread wrapped in cloth, but not the special cake his mother baked for him. Later on when he realizes that the “stranger” is good and kind, he shares the cake also and apologizes for withholding it at first. The Lord touches the boy’s shoulder, takes his crutch (which the boy willingly gives), and walks into the night. Needless to say, the boy is made whole that same hour. He runs home to his mother.

All this time, tears fall down my cheeks. I am awash with fresh downpour of love.

Sometimes, the heart responds and learns more through love than through sermon. Stories of love based on truth. Stories of God’s amazing love to us through the Lord Jesus Christ. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. 

Herein is love. 

The blessing of ordinary days is to know and receive that love without doubt and questioning. And to love the Lord back just as purely. To love Him even in the hard, in the painful, in the excruciating, without any traces of selfishness or cold-heartedness or silent rage. To look Him in the eye and there’s only tender love and awe and adoration in us.

The blessing of ordinary days is to be able to receive epiphanies, to be able to hear God’s voice and be transformed by it. 

On a Wednesday evening, Felix texts me. Their plane has safely landed in NAIA. I feel so happy and light I could soar! I shout and shout my thanksgiving towards heaven although I’m sure no voice comes out from my lips. I kiss my Bible thinking I’m kissing my Lord and Savior.

The blessing of ordinary days is to be lifted up in this shared love.

Thursday late afternoon, we gather around our dining table. The kids set the table, more sparkling than usual. The side table carries food we ordered especially for this occasion: black seafood paella, lasagna drowning in thick layers of luscious cheese, and red-orange juice.

Before we lift up forks, we lift up our hands and thanksgiving to God. We don’t need special occasion to order food, set the table, and gather around it. When we celebrate God, we can do it any day. Even in ordinary days.

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Faithfulness and Persistence

To the sick and suffering who have been in the same difficult situation for so long a time, these, faith and persistence, could become so shabby, lackluster, that one needs to wipe the dusty surface to have a glimpse of them once again. This could happen when, for years one prays for miraculous healing and it doesn’t come, and instead, there could be more suffering. This doesn’t mean that faithfulness in God is gone for good. No. It’s just that, one’s fervency for that petition so sought for could diminish. Maybe one would still continue praying for it but the “faith that could move mountains” has waned. Importunity (persistence) is also gone.

My painting from last year. I hope you like it.

My painting from last year. I hope you like it.

That is, until one finds oneself in a harder place where there is no other thing to do but find one’s way back to them – faith and persistence – dust them up, polish and let them shine once more. Let them do their work once more.

For you see, even hope could grow faint and wax weak. One could lose one’s tight grip on it and when that happens, one finds oneself despairing once again. To lose hope and courage – it’s scary. But if we revive our faithfulness to God and our persistence in seeking Him and presenting our supplications to Him, there could still be a remnant of strength left in one’s spirit. And with that, hope. For these, faithfulness and hope, they fortify each other. And prayer in faith is the fuel upon which persistence operates.

As I have said, they could become lackluster, especially when, after a very long time of holding onto them, one still has not received answer to a very important prayer. One is still sick and suffering terribly perhaps. But if the going gets tougher and tougher, one knows that these – faith in God and persistence (importunity) – are the only things one can hold onto, that can bring one from this day to the next. That can rekindle hope.

And so, instead of entertaining the budding feelings of discouragement, self-pity, and despair inside (or the temptation to sulk against God), I am brushing up my strong faith in Him and pursuing Him with persistent determination once again.

I am praying this:

Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. (Eph. 6:10-11)

I confess, feelings of hopelessness and despair sometimes creep into my heart, but I never – NEVER – let them flourish. However hard sickness and suffering is, I can’t afford to do that. I am a mother. I guess that says it all.

By God’s persistent grace, He revives us every now and then. This is more significant when one finds oneself in the lions’ den or in the fiery furnace heated up seven times than usual.

Do we still have Daniels and Shadrachs, Meshachs, and Abednegos abiding deep within us?

Do we still have that faith to face the hungry lions once again and believe – BELIEVE and TRUST – that God will send His angel once again to stop their mouths from devouring us?

Do we still have that faith that the Lord Jesus Christ will walk with us in the midst of the fire and we will walk out of the furnace without being burned?

Why are lions’s dens and fiery furnaces not shut down for good, like closed down factories which churn out obsolete products?

But we know that they will always be around until kingdom come. But the Word of God will remain. THE. WORD. OF. GOD. WILL. REMAIN!

In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Lord Jesus said,

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. (Mat. 24:35)

And what does His Word say? It is only this:

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior… (Is. 43:1-3)

These are so beautiful promises, but again, I confess: In the thick of sickness and suffering, one may feel like drowning in the deep waters instead of walking on them. One may feel like being melted through the fire.

It is during these times that our faith must not fail. Even for this, we need to ask the Lord Jesus’ help and intercession, remembering His assurance to Apostle Peter as also His assurance to us: “But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail” (see Luke 22:32).

In Luke 11 (KJV Bible), the Lord Jesus tells of a story between two friends and how importunity of the one got him what he wanted from the other. The story was a preface to what the Lord really wanted to say: for us to ask, seek, knock.

To be importunate is to be “overly persistent in request or demand”¹. In the story of the two friends, the one being asked didn’t want to be bothered for he and his family were already abed, but because he was his friend and because of his importunity, he rose and gave what his friend needed.

The Lord Jesus is saying that it is the same with our relationship with Him: we are His friends and He encourages us to importune Him, to ask and beg Him urgently, persistently, even troublesomely.

Sometimes we grow weary, yes, but the Holy Spirit leads us back to God’s Word over and over again and to believe and trust in its mighty power to do that which He intended it for.

“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is. 55:10-11, emphasis added)

He will send His word and heal (Ps. 107:20). Amen.

¹ Merriam-Webster

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The Lives We Live

I stir in bed. I know it’s nearing noon, I need to rise up, but my body wants to linger a little longer under the warm sheets. I slept at around 4 this morning, all night long my left leg wouldn’t relent. Of all nights! The discomfort in my legs was more intense than usual last night, it felt like it reached to the marrow and it was hard to sleep. The kids left for school without stopping by. Or maybe they did but found me fast asleep at last. I stretch and get ready for my morning devotion, my eyes roaming around the still-dark room (the undrawn drapes block out the sunlight). On my marble painting table sit the two white orchid plants, a huge 50-piece yellow rose bouquet, and a basket of flowers and fruits. They certainly make the room lovely. And although I have not (yet) received the answer to my fervent prayer, looking at the beautiful flowers make me feel blessed.

This was just a very quick dabble as I have been on bedrest for the past 2 days, but I will do better next time. Promise.

This was just a very quick dabble (using up remaining paints on my palette) as I have been on bedrest for the past 2 days, but I will do better next time. Promise.

Yesterday, alone in my room watching the live streaming of our church’s worship service (hubby and the kids attend church; the kids sing in the choir), a courier delivered a pretty basket of fresh flowers (that included dark pink sweet peas) and fruits. While the maid talked to the courier, I was wondering who would be sending a package since I didn’t order anything. When I saw it, then I remembered. The wonder of it all is that, I always manage to forget about these yearly gifts a beautiful and beloved sister in Christ faithfully sends on my birthday for over half a decade now. So, I am always surprised! 😀 And she lives in Kuwait! And we have never met in person.

But she never fails to make me feel loved and blessed no matter how hard I’m going through. Bless her beautiful soul!

Then last night after midnight, Felix left the room and came back carrying two potted blooming white orchids. They are so lovely I almost couldn’t believe they are real. On his second trip to the garage, he came back carrying a huge bouquet of yellow-gold roses.

“Oh, these are so many! What, 36? 48?” I asked, thinking about all the numbers divisible by 12 😀 .

“50, of course!” He answered. Fifty yellow-gold roses for my 50th birthday. Of course!

“Happy birthday, mahal.”

Today, Monday, October 2, is my birthday. Beginning the first day of September, I prayed a special prayer: that I will receive the gift of my healing. But nothing changed, in my life and in my body. Maybe in another day or time, I would have been deeply hurt. Why is the Lord Jesus so quiet in that regard? But not today. Today, I will not dwell on hurts or self-pity or discouragements. Today, I will do my best to celebrate and be happy.

Later in the afternoon when the kids arrived from school, I managed to wash my face and brush my hair for a decent picture-taking. Honestly, I just wanted to sit in front of the camera and let it capture what it could. Let it gather all the stories my face, my body, my head would be telling. I wanted my picture taken to share with friends on FB and IG but I didn’t want to “embellish” a perfectly happy and contented facade I wasn’t feeling or carrying somewhere within me. What I wrote on the caption was this:

Sometimes there are so many things- different stories and themes, reasons and motives, thanksgivings and praise – that one would like to say, but time and space and words may not be adequate, so one would think that it’s better to say nothing at all.

If a picture can tell all the battles won and still fighting
If it can reveal how many walks through the “valley of the shadow of death” there were
Or if it can explain the joy that pierces through like a ray of sunshine slicingthe dark, menacing clouds
If it can express all the melodies and lyrics of a song of praise and thanksgiving ithat have enlivened the soul in spite of
If it can show all at once all the hopes and fears, all the desires, longings and despair, the unwavering faith and sometimes tottering perseverance and courage
Then let it speak and the words need not be written.

But one knows that it cannot.

Screenshot 2017-10-10 16.42.16

My family.

My family.

Screenshot 2017-10-10 16.37.46

I often wonder what my life might be called. A half-life? Thinking that I’m not living on normal health and strength. But even that moniker is not correct. For my strength is not even half the normal. What would a life that operates on a fraction of strength and a slew of indescribable and scary physical hardships that is far removed from the normal order of things be called?

Sometimes it feels like it’s all like a child’s play. The things I strive to do to show the world I am living a wonderful life in spite of – it feels like they are not really real or complete or normal. Like I am an alien  trying to live on earth like any other human does. But I know that mine is entirely different and I feel like an “outsider”. They only see that I am sitting there on a sofa with a smile on my face, sporting a light makeup and wearing new clothes. What they don’t see is the wheelchair that brought me there and how hubby and kids scamper to make me comfortable: electric fan directed towards my face, sandals put on my feet, hair fixed, etc.

Or when I take photos of my “teascape” and share them on IG. They only see the pretty tea set and the inspiring caption, but they don’t see the hands that washed and put them there. The hands that assisted me while I sat and waited. A child’s play.

But my behind-the-scenes role as a wife and a mother is downright real. I pray hard and pound on heaven’s door for my family just like any other healthy Christian mom does. My writing/blogging and watercolor painting life, thank God, is also very real!

I hope that I don’t sound like I’m whining, because honestly I’m not. I’m just trying to share and explain how hard life like mine is. I could use the word “difficult”, but it doesn’t say anything except that it’s difficult. But when I say it’s hard, I may be describing a hard wall, a hard ground, a hard place, a hard situation, a hard hand, a hard deal.

But in the hard, I beg the Lord (just as much as I beg for my healing) for fruitfulness in the Holy Spirit. For what is a life without fruit? In a desolate land, in the wilderness, one could still be fruitful. And maybe even more so. Because in the wilderness, one’s bread is the Word of God. It is the manna that one gathers each day for one’s sustenance and growth.

A fruitful life is the Word of God lived. Each and every day. And that is my light, my encouragement, and my hope.

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The Meaning and Purpose of Life 2

I had written the same theme a while back, so why is there a need again to write another? Well, I hope it’s not entirely another, but a support of what I had written before. For when you are sick and suffer everyday (and you also see the suffering in the world or among your friends and acquaintances), you can’t help but continue looking for answers and sense, for light, for some understanding, so as to be able to continue trudging through this thing called life. For when you continue to be in the dark and not being able to grasp the meaning and purpose of your existence, it is hard to even face another day. It is hard to plan, to hold joy and hope, and look forward to a bright tomorrow.

LIGHTS. A painting from last year (I wasn't able to paint a new one for the blog theme :( ). My son Tim took the photo of the gladiola in the garden and I painted it. It is now framed and graces the wall near the dining area.

LIGHTS. A painting from last year (I wasn’t able to paint a new one for the blog theme :( ). My son Tim took the photo of the gladiola in the garden and I painted it. It is now framed and graces the wall near the dining area.

So, in the midst of illness, as I struggle against the suffering and go thorough it scared and so uncertain (you never get used to it or become comfortable with it!), questions about the meaning and purpose of life snake in and out of my mind and won’t relent.

Why are we even here when life is rife with hardships and suffering, often senseless and always painful?

Life is short and even shorter for others. You grow, you study, you get a career, you wed, settle and start a family. And in between those stages of life, you may find yourself face down on the dirt, weary, surrendered, riddled with problems, grief and pain, or illness.

In the span of a lifetime, you toil, you do all those for it is what we were taught, and then what? It all comes down to the end, and then what? What was our life? What was it all about?

Was it our stellar career? Was it rearing children that later on became successful in their own right? Was it retiring well, and then comes the end and we close our eyes and open them no more, at least not on this side of life.

Is that, really, the meaning and purpose of life? To be a successful career person, almost-perfect parent, one who saw the beautiful places this world has to offer? Who went on adventures, who enjoyed the best things in life?

What if your career is cut short by an illness? What if your dreams are dashed and your tomorrows are extinguished by, again, illness?

A beloved sister in Christ, the wife of a preacher in our church, went to be with the Lord recently. She was a school teacher and she just finished her master’s degree. She was looking forward to a brighter future in her teaching career, for she loved what she did. Then cancer struck. In that short time between finding her place in this world, working and dreaming and serving the Lord, and then her early passing – there must have been meaning and purpose to it. There must have been. Otherwise, we go back to the same questions.

I used to have a stellar career. I established my own chemicals company and built our office building with a small lab. I married and gave birth to my dream daughter. I honestly thought it was the perfect life, the absolute fulfilment of a dream. I honestly thought this. was. life. That the meaning and purpose of my life was right there in the middle of it all and I was the reigning queen.

When the life and health that I knew and enjoyed disappeared like a thin smoke and the career and dreams going with it, what then is the meaning and purpose of my life?

So, there must be that one thing where we could find the meaning and purpose to life and anchor ourselves wholly to it. For success, adventures, homes, health, relationships, material things – they could all be taken away and what will be left of us? An empty shell that walks like a zombie, a tumbleweed that is driven by the wind in the desolate place?

I refuse to accept that that is all of life. And yet, we go back to the question: Why did God put us here when we would see and experience so much pain and suffering? When we would despair even of life? If He has promised Heaven, and it is what we ultimately look forward to, what are we doing on this earth now? What are we supposed to do here now? For we know that life is short and the good things are not eternal but temporal.

Where can we settle our hearts and be peaceful and hopeful and faithful there?

How can we apply God’s truth to our lives so that we will embrace it as the meaning and purpose of our existence and then be single-minded about it? And then we will learn to live in it and bask in it and grow and be fruitful and flourish in it.

The answer to these questions I wrote in the first part and you can read it here (if you haven’t yet or you would like to be refreshed).

I am taking the meaning and purpose of my life as being a part of God. I am a part of God for He has created me and loved me before the foundation of the world. He has loved me with an everlasting love. A love that has no end. It has been a big problem for me to begin to understand that kind of love or even to fully accept it, especially through long sickness and suffering. I have questioned and doubted it deep in my heart. But if I would start to look at it this way, that God put me into this world to give me life and meaning and purpose and that He will always be with me (because He will not forsake the work of His hand), the heaviness and fears start to be lifted off.

If I believe in the truth that I am a part of Him and can never be separated from Him and therefore He is with me no matter what I go through, then I can begin to settle my whole self – mind, heart, body, soul – to His keeping. For His plan, for His purposes, for His delight. 

So then I could begin to live as His very own no matter where I go. He carries me and I carry Him in my heart. Then I understand that the meaning and purpose of my life is for God to love, to lead, to try, to teach, to bless, to provide for, to enjoy. All for His glory.

“Everyone who is called by My name,
Whom I have created for My glory;
I have formed him, yes, I have made him.” (Is. 43:7)

Then we fulfil the purpose of our creation, of our being here: for His glory. When we live as a part of God and know that we can never be separated from Him and go through life being accessible to Him to guide and love and enjoy, then we do those things that are pleasing in His sight. It will be easier then. We will do it willingly and with gladness. For for Him to enjoy us and delight in us, we must love and adore Him as fervently. 

The meaning and purpose of life is to be wholly God’s and to live in that truth.

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Yearning

Though it hurts, yearning is good for my heart, that yearning for the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know that kind of deep yearning, one that is borne out of desperation? That yearning that I am sure the woman who bled for 12 years had, or the leper who begged the Lord, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean”, or the father of the child with a dumb and deaf spirit who cried out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!” Or Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue whose daughter lay at home dying.

This was just a quick sketch and dabble and though it's quite unfinished (the other flower needs more color), I enjoyed painting it just for the joy and freedom of painting.

This was just a quick sketch and dabble and though it’s quite unfinished (the other flower needs more color), I enjoyed painting it just for the joy and freedom of painting.

These all and many others had gone through indescribable desperation and sought the Lord Jesus’ help. I know there are still many out there that, like me, are going through the same. But that is the big difference between our stories and those stories in the Bible during the time of the Lord Jesus Christ: they had Him in the flesh, going about all the cities and villages, healing every sickness and every disease among the people. 

And that is where my yearning cuts deep: I want Him so much to be here, in the flesh, to see His eyes of compassion and feel His hands of mercy and healing. To be before Him, begging Him on my knees to deliver me from my sickness and suffering. Or even to crawl behind Him and be able to touch even the hem of His garment, then everything will be fine. Then healing would flow to my body and all would be well.

I long for Him, yes, so much that it hurts.

Sometimes I wonder, does He know our deepest longings? How does He feel about them? What does He want to do about them?

The Gospels tell us that, He was moved with compassion. And since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8), He is still moved with compassion today.

He is still moved with compassion today. Let this truth steep our whole being from the crown of our heads to the soles of our feet.

But we need proof, don’t we? We want to experience this compassion in action from a compassionate God. We want to bask in our belovedness. For we are His beloved and He is ours.

Years ago when I was very sick again and languished in bed, I experienced the same yearning for God, to know His heart, to see His eyes. What did they see? What was their expression?

One day I was reading through The Book of Daniel and that encounter between him and the angel Gabriel touched me deeply that I had to put down my Bible and pondered on it. Gabriel told Daniel that He was a man greatly beloved. Three times the angel assured Daniel this, that he was a man greatly beloved by God.

How I wished I were in Daniel’s stead!

I closed my Bible and thought long and hard: “Am I also a woman greatly beloved by God?” I was no prophet. I hadn’t the wisdom or the faith and calling of Daniel. I was a woman whose sin was darker than the darkest night. And yet a woman who had received great mercy and grace from the compassionate God and complete forgiveness of my sins. And had been washed by the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ that flowed profusely in Calvary.

Didn’t He give His life to give me mine?

He loved me and died for me even when I was yet a sinner. So, am I a woman greatly beloved by Him? Is there doubt about that?

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8)

But, I ask Felix my husband in a whisper, “Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why does God even allow it? Even to His children?” as I swipe away tears that sneak out at the corners of my eyes. He whispers back his reply, “I don’t know, My.”

And so we yearn. We long for His touch, for His eyes that look at us compassionately and being moved by what He sees. We long for heaven touching earth and healing everything that needs healing.

This deep longing, this yearning in the heart that is not totally quenched in the here and now – it is proof that we belong to Him eternally. That our hearts and souls carry with them a part of eternity. And that our longing hearts are proof that our love is not dead but is forever alive and beating for Him.

My heart beats for Him. And that is good.

The last time that I came through one of those horrible sufferings, I only felt love for my Savior – a quiet, steadfast, indestructible love – all glory to Him! I listened to praise and loved on Him, then I reached for my prayer journal and told Him how He is my all in all, my everything in every aspect of my life. How I live in Him and by Him and through Him. And for Him.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18)

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“How Great Thou Art” {A Little Testimony}

Like any other testimony of God’s wonders and grace, whether a major one or of the everyday kind, this story began at the deepest end of human emotions: weariness, anger, resentment, lostness, helplessness. Of hope flying away; faith groping in the dark; heart bordering to rebellion. Against God. A body and heart that have been so hurt by the — unresponsive God. A soul that wept and shook and shed tears and poured out its bitter complaint.

IMG_7844

I am so sorry that I have to go through this again, but I promise that, like all other testimonies, it will be glorious in the end.

Last week, the flu bug found me and as if my present illness and suffering weren’t enough, the flu had to do its work also. It left my body feeling like it was tightly tied by a taut, thick rope from the head to the feet. The problems and discomforts that I used to suffer everyday intensified and felt like there was no relenting, especially on Tuesday. In the evening, exhausted and “sick and tired” of my situation, I attempted to listen to our church’s praise and worship on YouTube, but after just a few minutes, my breathing wasn’t improving and the music wasn’t helping, so I muted it.

I turned on my side and waited out for relief. When I was feeling strong enough to write on my prayer journal, I poised myself to do so. But already at this time, my heart was breaking. From hurt, disappointment, anger, and hope fading.

Below I share with you the words I wrote on my journal. I am sharing this with you because it’s part of the story. And because there is always this hope in my heart that, when I share my story and soul, someone, anyone, who might read it will be blessed as I pray God would intend to use it. And bring Him glory.

22nd August ’17

     Father in heaven, I always do my best to be good for You though I know that, oftentimes, I fail. Still, I strive to do so. I always do my best to pick myself up no matter how hard I am suffering.

     But I am weary, Father. I am weary of this suffering – relentless, cruel, punishing. My complaint rises up from within me like bile. My heart is in bitter complaint because of this suffering that seems endless.

     I’m only human. I am made of flesh and bones. I am weak. I suffer everyday and there is no end to it. I feel bitter. I feel discouraged. I feel… angry, somehow. Why is the punishment on my body never ends? I beg for Your mercy, but still, the suffering, the illness, clings to me like my own skin.

     I feel helpless.

     I am lost. I don’t know what to do, what to think, where to go.

     I feel lost.

     I am weak. I can’t fight this feeling of disheartenment.

     I don’t know what to say. I want to hurl things and smash them against the wall. Yes, there is anger in my heart. There is resentment. There is bitterness. Who wouldn’t be bitter? 14 years of sickness and suffering.

     I am in the dark. I can’t see light. My heart is gripped with sorrow. My faith is groping. I don’t know what to do.

     I don’t have the inspiration to do what I must do.

     I’m pitiful. I’m lost in my hope. [Here, I abruptly stopped and closed my journal as sobbing wracked my body].

I closed my journal and howled in my anguish. I thought about the Lord Jesus Christ, the words beloved and best friend so far away like shrouded in thick fog. But in my weeping, I uttered the words “Healer, Healer, Healer” and “Deliverer, Deliverer, Deliverer” over and over, not to beg, but to ask, “What do they really mean?” This was the question behind those words.

I prayed towards heaven as tears kept on rolling, “Father, please do not let me suffer so much that I would fall into doubt, unbelief, or rebellion!” I cried some more, curled up like a fetus in the womb.

When I was exhausted at last (and my complaints, too), I looked at my TV screen. The praise and worship video was still there, suspended, waiting. But my heart wasn’t yearning to praise and worship. It wasn’t into it, so I didn’t force it. I clicked it close and went to Home, intending to search for Jesus movie. I was thinking that maybe, when I see the Lord Jesus (even if only a movie), teaching, loving, caring, healing – my heart would have a turnaround.

I know Jesus. I know my Shepherd. But I’m not okay now. Such were the whisperings of my soul.

But when I reached YouTube Home, the video Hymn History “How Great Thou Art” caught my eye and I said, “I’ll watch this first.”

I watched it and when finally, the beloved hymn was played, I was unprepared as to what was to come.

By the second stanza, something began to happen.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

“I know, Father. Though I haven’t been through the woods and forest glades, or on top of the mountain or near the brook, my soul knows them,” my heart whispered, the course of tears on my cheeks still damp. “I know the sound of the birds singing sweetly in the trees. I know it so well.”

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

I first saw (or heard?) the lyrics even as I shifted my eyes on the cross, and there, He took me totally unexpectedly. He took me wholly, and my anguish, too. The weight of His Truth, my salvation story, and His love – the weight of glory – it can topple one onto one’s knees and assume the posture of worship. The worship of God with the whole spirit. The worship of God that relinquishes any traces of complaint.

And I was reduced to someone who needs saving once again. Someone who is a sinner and a recipient of God’s amazing grace. Someone who was a filthy rag but was washed by the blood of my Savior Jesus Christ – my best friend and beloved.

I flung my arms upwards and shouted with all the strength I had, “I love You, my dearest Lord Jesus! I love You, I love You, I love You!” as fresh tears once again smeared my face.

The weight of God’s glory upon one’s spirit is restoring.

It is not my striving to be perfect that draws me to the throne of grace. It is my great neediness.

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Be Strong and Courageous

One day last week after a long suffering bout where I had felt like I was dangling over a deep canyon and just the tiniest error on my part or a soft whiff of wind would send me plummeting into the deep and… end, many confusing thoughts and swirling emotions gripped me. It was a moment that I didn’t want to analyze things anymore, that I was tired thinking, analyzing, and trying to understand what I was unable to comprehend anyway. I was thinking that once I had enough strength and good breathing, I was going to write on my journal this: “Lord, I don’t know what to do anymore.” I was so exhausted not only physically but in fighting spiritually or even mentally, trying to outsmart my sickness and suffering. For a change I wanted to just be lost and not think or do anything.

My daisy meadow from last year.

My daisy meadow from last year.

For what could a mere human do in the face of so much hardship? I thought about the unfairness of life: the wicked enjoying a long, healthy, and prosperous life, and the people that are still so needed by their families are taken away (here, I was thinking of my friend who passed away recently, leaving her 4 children orphans, for her husband had gone before her ten years prior).

So, I was facing yet another major bout of discouragement and hopelessness.

But just as soon as these feelings of weakness and lostness engulfed me, these words flashed in my mind in red letters: Be strong and courageous.

And instantly, I was renewed to be strong and courageous again.

Then I understood (again), that there was no other way, really, in this faith that we have been given. So, I comforted and encouraged myself with these words as the last few moments of recovery (from the attack) came to an end: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (see Eph. 6:10).

I am not a stranger to this admonition. In fact, it is my battlecry in the 14 years of being sick and suffering. It has seen me through the dark valleys and stormy seas. In the face of great fear, uncertainties, suffering, discouragements, hopelessness, and wanting to give up, “Be strong and courageous” has always gained the upper hand.

Yes, to remain standing still after each storm. For the Lord Jesus Christ is able to make us stand.

…Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (Rom. 14:4)

It is God’s power and grace that make us stand.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Eph. 6:11-13)

Having done all, to stand. I often think and wonder why, after doing all the things that I know are pleasing to God – obeying His commands, living His Word, and not neglecting to worship and commune with Him first and foremost – still, there are prayers, very important ones, that are left unanswered. Still, illness stays and suffering continues. After each and every suffering bout, I ask in the depths of my soul, like an anguished animal desperate for deliverance, “What else needs to be done?”

And when we only hear hollow echoes of our questions and not a clear answer, we either slump down in utter dejection and discouragement or become bitter, resentful, and more doubtful.

But the Apostle Paul exhorts that having done all, to still stand. Stand and not cave in. Stand and not doubt. Stand and forge on. Stand and be strong and courageous. Stand and be faithful to the end.

I know firsthand how this is not easily done, especially in the face of so much hardships and challenges. But it is what needs to be done. Our God commands it.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:9)

I am no Joshua, but I can make the other women of the Bible who had shown strength and courage in the face of life’s trials and challenges as my role models.

Esther

There is Esther who bravely faced her fate twice. First, as a candidate for queen among other young women. What if she had other plans for herself? All that had to be forgotten for she was brought to the palace to be prepared for one night with the king. What if she wasn’t chosen? She will be kept in the harem as the king’s concubine for life. A very daunting prospect.

But she did her best and became a shining star in the palace and earned the trust and respect of Hegai, custodian of the women, and the other girls. She wasn’t afraid even ensconced within the walls of the palace that could serve her prison for life.

Then there was the moment in her life as queen when she needed to approach the king and present her petition, putting her life on the line. For any one who had not been summoned by the king and presented themselves risked death.

Ruth

Who doesn’t love Ruth? A widow and a stranger to Israel being a Moabitess, she could have stayed behind with her family and the people she knew. But she cleaved to Naomi, her mother-in-law, and set her face to a pilgrimage to the land she had never been before, to a people and faith foreign to her, and to a God she had not known.

And yet, she had the heart and courage to face all that without being afraid. And then followed the back-breaking labor of gleaning barley from sunup to sundown.

And having done all, to stand.

Rahab

Who would forget Rahab? She was a brave and gutsy woman for sure. She didn’t only shine hiding the spies and bravely facing the king’s stewards who came knocking at her door demanding her to turn in the spies. But to turn her back from her old occupation and start a whole new life in the embrace of Israel and her God. From a prostitute to an Israel adoptee (even capturing Salmon’s heart), she bravely yielded herself to the challenges that she faced. It wouldn’t have been easy to live normally and blissfully and to be with only one man with the demons of her past visiting her many a sleepless night. The remembrance of her past life.

But having done all, to stand.

And then there is Mary the mother of the Lord Jesus. But we end here.

If I say, “My foot slips,”
Your mercy, O Lord, will hold me up. (Ps. 94:18)

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Gratitude and Wonder

I have had more excruciating suffering bouts the past week but I won’t distress you with them. What good would that do? You know what I’m going through and how I cling to my Savior and Healer. I am thankful that joy adamantly adheres to me in spite of the suffering, a staunch ally against it. And I can still see the wonders of everyday, because you see, I have learned to look for the good and the beautiful in the mundane, interspersed with the sufferings, like a bird foraging for food to fill its hunger. And because of that, gratitude still abides in my heart, by God’s grace. For if we can no longer see and appreciate the goodness of God in the land of the living, how can we praise and thank Him? How is He lifted up and glorified in our lives? For we have been created for His glory alone (see Is. 43:7).

gratitude and wonder

Freesia – a painting from early last year.

Another thing, ungratefulness is a fodder for bitterness. And bitterness makes one wretched, one thing the Lord has mercifully taken away from me.

And so today, I will tell of His wonderful works. They may be just small and simple to deserve gracing a magazine, but to me, they are glimpses of my Shepherd’s love and care.

Wonder

The Snow Globe

Felix and Tim went to Shangri-La Mall to buy me silk flowers and toiletries. They came home with my silk roses and peonies and also bottles of floral bath creams – Lily of the Valley, Rose, Freesia, and Blue Porcelain China. Whatever the scent of that last one I have no clue. But the surprise was Tim’s snow globe. He came home carrying a snow globe that he insisted, yes, insisted, that his daddy buy. Tim knows that I have been longing for a snow globe for the longest time (I didn’t know that they are sold here considering that we don’t have winter season).

So Tim showed the snow globe to me and I shared his awe. The inside is a bird perched on a branch and the snow is not plain white dust but they sparkle, like minute glass shards reflecting the sun in its fullness or a star-studded sky in the heart of winter. We both celebrated our finally having a snow globe as we stared at it with the snow falling like magic.

He left it on my book shelf and tries to remember to shake it when he comes to my room for my delight.

The Vending Machine

A machine that vomits soda, coffee, snacks, and even packed sushi and ramen (in Japan) I know, but questions? One day, Tim told me he has a vending machine of questions inside him. He says that when he cranks up this machine, a question rolls out of it and into his mouth, hence, his many, many questions, so myriad I sometimes tell him he’s tiresome (I guess that’s another thing that adults do :( ).

“So, don’t wonder why I have endless questions, Mom, coz I have a vending machine of them inside me and I can’t stop them from spilling out!”

The Piano Duet

During the kids’ school break, we finally found a piano teacher to do private tutorials (they had to stop for a  year as we looked for a good music school nearby but couldn’t find one). During the lull, they both turned to learning and playing the uke. They are now both adept with it. But Felix and I wanted them to continue learning the piano. The private tutorials are proving to be successful. When cousins from San Diego came to visit in July, they had at least learned a duet and entertained our guests after a sumptuous lunch of seafoods.

One night recently after dinner in our dining room (for years we ate in our bedroom extension on a 30″ by 40″ table), they practiced their new duet. Felix turned my wheelchair around so I’d be facing the piano. So, there we were, our family gathered in our living room as music played in our home once again. I relished the moment and gratitude filled my heart, forgetting for a time (though short) my hardships.

Gratitude

The Buyers

I’m blessed by the buyers of our online thrift store via IG. For my American readers, the Philippines is an archipelago, that is, a group of islands scattered all over the country. There are three main islands – Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao. Luzon, especially Metro Manila, is the heart of the country. It is the main island. It is where the big cities, hotels, shopping malls, businesses, skyscrapers, best schools and universities, and all important government offices and agencies are found. In the US, the states are like small countries in and of themselves, and one can settle in any and still be “in”. Not in the Philippines. As I have already mentioned, Metro Manila is the heart.

In the other two islands, Visayas and Mindanao, they also have cities but they are mostly known for their world-famous beaches and resorts. And although the Philippines is just a fraction of the entire USA in size, those two other islands are quite remote to us who live in Metro Manila and its outskirts.

Imagine my surprise and delight every time people from those places buy from us. They are women – wives, moms, singles – wanting a share of our merchandise, or more accurately, they desire to make their homes beautiful and surround themselves with pretty things – teapots, teacups, porcelain plates, vases, and my paintings! It doesn’t matter to them that they pay shipping fees of courier services, and that, there are some who live too far away from the city or town that the courier service doesn’t even reach their place. They would drive 2 hours to pick up their packages from the nearest branch and another 2 going back.

I’m blessed because these women are like kindred spirits. We all want to make our homes beautiful. I hope and pray that even in this way, God is glorified.

The Paintings

It brings me so much joy and fulfilment that my paintings are appreciated and bought by our IG buyers. Framed originals and gallery wrap canvas prints alike are bought and ordered and I have also began accepting commissions. Oh, please don’t get the wrong picture. I’m not busy as a bee for I. Can’t. Do. That. I only paint when I am well and just for an hour or so. But still, these things bring meaning to my life and I only have the Lord Jesus Christ to thank for.

One time as I was staring at a work-in-progress painting of a pink rose bush, I whispered a prayer: Lord Jesus, though sometimes I err and have shortcomings, please don’t take this away from me.

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