Cup Running Over

After my leisurely evening bath in my new bathtub and then a round of Scrabble with the family, where as usual, was raucous and the hot fries went flying as fast as the hand could travel from the bowl to the mouth and back again until there was nothing left but a few salt crystals – I rested with a heart overflowing with thanksgiving.

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How could I not be steeped with gratitude at that moment, I felt so full the words of thanksgiving flowed from my lips like a stream? If you have dwelt long in a place where there’s only suffering, fear, and death hovering around you like a gnat hovers over a carabao (water buffalo), the simplest of things that bring you joy would be a reason to rejoice and thank God. There were long seasons, almost covering a year, when I was too ill and weak I couldn’t bathe. Thin layer of dirt mottled my otherwise flawless skin like maps. And when I had regained some strength, a sponge bath in bed was all I could have.

If you had been in the lowest valley of the shadow of death for a long time and the only things that made you alive were your undying faith and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ, the experience of recovery, no matter how hard and slow, would be to you a glorious one. A blessing so wonderful you will not forget to thank the Lord each and every day.

So, even if my family traveled to Island Cove in the historic province of Cavite and then to Timberland up in the mountains of San Mateo without me, I would remain joyful and grateful. Even if I cannot walk and travel, even if there are deep longings in my heart for my fervent dreams to be fulfilled, I choose to look at the little gifts the Lord scatters in my day everyday, like finding diamonds in the dust.

My husband insisted that he buy me a bathtub where I can bathe properly and even enjoy it. (About 3 years ago, we remodelled our adjoining bathroom to give leeway for my wheelchair. The old, embedded bathtub had to be removed). I’ve always wanted the classic bathtub, the one which stands regally on 4 clawed feet. It touches my incurably romantic soul :) . And since its smaller, it would fit perfectly in our bathroom.

Felix found the perfect one. He showed me a photo and I liked it instantly. But it wasn’t cheap. For me, it was too expensive I couldn’t possibly pamper myself with such luxury, so I vehemently told him not to buy it. True, we bought a faux rattan furniture for our patio just recently and the price was almost the same with that of the bathtub. But I had wanted to spend some time outside in our garden to breathe  in fresh air and look at the trees and the sky. Before Holy Week, we levelled out the floor of the patio (our bedroom opens to the patio) so my wheelchair could pass through without inconvenience. Then we bought the very comfy rattan sofa with plush cushions and pillows. I can now spend leisurely my afternoons and evenings there, that is, before the mosquitoes come to fly me away 😀 .

When Felix said that he found one which was 10,000 pesos ($200) cheaper, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart that a bathtub would make my life happier and more comfortable. (Previously, after my husband had bathed me in our bed, we had to dry it for hours because it had been flooded).

Is it selfish to receive God’s generous gifts? Is it bad to enjoy His bountiful blessings? I endeavor to live simply and modestly, remembering how the Lord Jesus had nowhere to lay His head (see Matthew 8:20). But if He chooses to heap His blessings upon us in whatever form – physically, materially, spiritually – should we not receive them with open arms and give Him thanks for them?

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. (1 Tim. 6:17, emphasis added)

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Able-bodied people soak in bathtubs, indulge in spas, swim in pools, and bask in beaches without a mind for it. But for weak, ailing people like me, the things that healthy people take for granted are a luxury. My bathtub is so cute and sleek (wink) and comfortable. The comfortably warm water feels good on my body and induces me to sleep better. When Felix poured my Aveeno lavender foam bath, the scent which I like so much soothed me and the gentle white foams caressed my body (a body that has suffered a lot). As I luxuriated in my fragrant bath, I felt the love of my good and generous Father embracing me.

To be loved and cherished by the ever-loving, ever-giving God, is a blessing beyond measure. My cup runneth over and thanksgiving is poured out towards heaven.

I love You, I love You, I love You!

(That lovely lavender foam bath led to my desire for our cosmetic ingredients company to expand and venture into essential and fragrance oils. By the grace of God, we found a manufacturer and supplier in India, where rare and precious spices, and yes, essential oils, come from. Although I had retired from work since I got ill, I helped our company conceptualize the promotional materials. I painted a pretty floral and herbs border for the product lists and a lavender wreath for the label. A simple announcement was made on our company website, which I also administer, by God’s grace).

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Being able to use my gifts even in a simple way is another form of blessing and source of joy which I am deeply grateful for.

My soul shouts to my Lord Jesus, my Savior and faithful Father in heaven! I make my soulfelt thanksgiving a worship.

Amazement

Awe

Wonder

That night that I went to bed with heart overflowing, Psalm 23 came to mind. I love Psalm 23. It is a hope and strength and comforting companion in and through the shadow of the valley of death, but even out of it. It is a psalm often recited in death beds and funerals, but it is actually a psalm for the living! For the delivered, the healed, the tried and tested, the favored, the truly blessed!

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (Ps. 23)

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A Life of Thankfulness

Early on my salvation, I learned to not complain about the difficulties I needed to live with which the illness that stole my health and career brought. As I began to read and study the Word of God with the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I learned hard lessons that I needed for the journey, the journey the Lord had set before me whether I liked it or not. I was about to embark on a new and uncharted territory. It was totally scary. But the Lord was teaching me to exercise my faith muscles so that they would become strong as we walked together down that new road.

a life of thankfulness

I would like to think how my journey of faith was very similar to that of the Israelites when God delivered them from the bondage of Pharaoh by the hand of Moses. The people didn’t know any other kind of life. God wanted to manifest Himself to them, to be in their midst, to guide them closely, be their God, the very center of their life. He wanted to be a “hands-on” God and had programmed their journey from Egypt to Canaan, the Promised Land. Even their diet was a part of His program. And of course, the giving of the laws by which the people should walk therein. That was God’s heart for them. But the people’s hearts weren’t ready for this kind of life.

They complained. They grumbled. They dishonored God by their endless murmuring instead of thanksgiving. They didn’t sanctify God who was in the midst of them. They longed for their former life though it was a life of bondage. (They got wearied of the daily dose of manna and there souls longed for the flavors of Egypt). In the process, they spurned the life God wanted for them.

Complaining was the ruin of most of them. They did not make it to the Promised Land but their carcasses were scattered in the wilderness.

Their fate terrified me. So I learned to avoid mouthing off complaints in the midst of my suffering. But learning not to complain and to give thanks in its stead are two different challenges. But by God’s grace (which is a constant in my faith journey), I learned to embrace gratefulness, not only in the place of complaints, but as a way of life.

To choose to be thankful in the presence of illness and suffering is quite a hard task. You do it not because it is what is required, but because it is what’s in your heart. Ultimately, it is all the work of God in us.

The Lord wanted to wean me of the things and pleasures of this world and to enrich my life with His presence and His Word.

This was what He purposed for the Israelites journeying from Egypt to Canaan. But most of them “missed” it, for they lusted for other things that were outside of God’s program. Because they refused to see what God was doing in their midst, they couldn’t appreciate His works. And so, they couldn’t praise and thank Him for them. God called them stiff-necked people. In Jesus’ time and even in our modern times, we call it hard-heartedness. “Because of the hardness of your hearts” (see Mat. 19:8), the Lord Jesus said.

I thank the Lord that, through His Holy Spirit, I can see the works He’s doing in my life. Though I don’t understand most of them, He’s making me learn through them. Lessons that make me know Him more intimately; trust Him steadfastly. Lessons that have eternal consequences.

One of the wonderful fruits of  learning the ways of the Kingdom is living a life of thankfulness.

Thankfulness is a part of our worship. We can never worship God fully if our hearts are full of complaints and discontent.

We can channel our soul’s bitter complaints [our deep laments due maybe to sickness and suffering, persecutions, hardships, etc.] through agonized prayers. God will receive them. But to complain incessantly of His ways and provision in our lives would be to spurn Him. This brings Him utter displeasure.

But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. Nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. (1 Cor. 10: 5, 6, 9, 10, 11)

On the other hand, thankfulness will take us from the place of discontent to a place of satisfaction and joy and enduring hope. I have learned this first-hand.

Many times in my life of illness and suffering, I am plunged into “the valley of the shadow of death” literally. My body goes through almost unbearable beating (I call it a gauntlet). In those times, I have no other option but to lie still and endure and wait out for relief. At the end of such excruciatingly difficult episode, my soul could either rant in utter bitterness or my spirit could maintain a humble stance [a gentle and quiet spirit] and let thanksgiving to God overflow. For yet another deliverance.

I always choose the latter. I thank the Lord for not leaving me alone in my suffering, for helping me and bringing me relief (though I never want nor understand those terrifying episodes). I thank Him for the breath of life

Humility with thankfulness, which is a way of honoring God no matter how hard our circumstances are, has always helped me overcome, both the urge to rise up and rebel and the strong pull of spiralling down in discouragement and hopelessness.

God said, “…those who honor Me I will honor…” (see 1 Sam. 2:30). Our thankfulness brings God joy and “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (see Neh. 8:10).

If we want to maintain strength in our life, we should bring God joy. Being thankful in everything will do the job, besides praise and worship and our complete obedience.

If you’re in a hard place (trials of different proportion and intensity), thanksgiving may not flow easily. In my life, I have learned to shift my gaze from my physical suffering to the other things where the light of Jesus shines upon and His blessings poured out. This could be the love and joys of family, of reading, writing, watercolor painting; God’s protection of our loved ones, etc.

“In everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18), the apostle Paul reminds us. In the midst of difficult circumstances, we can still see glimpses of blessings when we change our perspective [a mental view or outlook].

When my husband spent hours running errands for our family’s needs (that is, outside of his office work and with a few hours of sleep the night before), I called his cellphone for it was already getting late. I asked what’s taking him so long. Instead of explaining, he grumbled. I messaged him with this: “I hope that your being tired will not be a reason to complain. Still give thanks for the strength you have.”

As the year comes to a close, may we not forget to give thanks to God for a year’s worth of His love and mercy, light, faithfulness, goodness, blessings, answered prayers, joys, and lessons hard and beautiful. Intentionally give thanks, for the easy and the hard, for the big things and the small. This will dramatically transform our lives.

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Thankfulness

Since we can’t go away for vacations even during long holidays, my husband and I treated our kids to Walt Disney’s Holiday on Ice show at the Araneta Coliseum the Saturday after Christmas. My husband chose the location which was nearer the ice rink but it also meant pricier tickets. But we wanted to make the kids happy, so it didn’t really matter. Just to see them so excited about the show brought gladness to our hearts.

Late in the afternoon when they returned, I was anticipating them to be bursting with excitement and stories of their date with Walt Disney characters. But I was surprised to see them gloomy and sulky and not speaking a word. When I asked why, Hannah said that their Dad did not allow them to buy souvenirs. Oh. She said Tim wanted the light wand but Dad said there was no way he was buying it (P700 plus ~ $20). “Oh, yes, I wouldn’t have allowed that, either,” I said.

When their Dad came into the room, he murmured what ungrateful kids they were, shaking his head in disappointment. I was very disappointed, too. And sad. I just murmured for my husband to hear, “We’ll need to explain it to them. This is a serious matter and must be handled properly.”

Hannah quietly left the room while Tim continued to sulk, expressing his discontent by saying things like, “I’ll just give away all my toys because Daddy didn’t buy me the light wand.” And so it went.

As I pondered on this thing, I knew how far our old life in the province was compared to the life our kids were having now. When we were kids, life was hard. And even though our father worked in Guam, USA, life in our small town was generally simple, without the modern-day comforts. We were always grateful for what we received and enjoyed every moment of every treat that we were given, like a trip to the beach, for they were few and far between.

Yes, the life our children are exposed to now is far different from what my husband and I had. They are two different worlds. And I understood that we couldn’t force our kids to live that life which they hadn’t known. But we never wanted to rear our kids as spoiled brats, either.

In the early evening after I had rested, I called for them. I gently but firmly told them to bring their own plastic chairs and sit in front of me for we were going to talk about something very important. They were quiet now and subdued. In fact, they were no longer sulking. I began to tell them about the King who wore a sparkling robe and a crown that was bedecked with priceless jewels and who sat on a magnificent throne in heaven. And this King chose to come to earth, become a baby and be born in a manger.

“Do you know what a manger is?” I looked at Tim.

“It’s a — crib?” He answered, smiling.

“Yes, but this one is not made of brass and not lined with soft beddings like your comfortable flannel. A manger is actually a feeding trough where barn animals like cows, carabaos, horses, and sheep eat. And because these animals eat grass, what do you find in the manger?”

“Grass,” Tim answered quietly.

“Yes, and that also served as the bedding for the baby King, our Savior Jesus Christ. His mother Mary wrapped Him in swaddling cloths. They didn’t even have cute baby clothes or pampers.” I then demonstrated to them what a swaddling cloth was and how to use it. It’s just a long piece of cloth.

“Why did the Lord Jesus choose to be born that way  – prickly manger for a bed in a barn where animal dung and noise could disturb Him – and not in a very comfortable house or hotel?”

“To teach us to be humble,” Hannah answered.

“Yes. And to teach us that material things don’t really matter but love. He wanted to show His great love for us.”

I then proceeded to tell them about the things we enjoy: our big house, their rooms and comfortable beds, their clothes, the cars, the food on the table, their toys, their Mom and Dad who love and care for them. I reminded them how blessed they are, even going to shows like Walt Disney’s, while there are many children around the world who don’t even have food to eat.

I looked at two pairs of eyes becoming bigger and rounder. The two had become so quiet and listening intently, taking in my every word. My voice began to crack as I continued to tell them about the importance of being thankful with all their hearts in everything.

“Dad and Mom treated you to a wonderful show but when you got home, all you did was —“

“— complain.” Tim butted in. Hannah and I burst out laughing. Tim, chastened, sounded like a grown-up.

But before I was finished, I could see how sorry they were. We closed in prayer, with bowed heads and raised arms, expressing our deep gratitude to the Lord for all His goodness and blessings. After the Amen, they both hugged me tightly and told me how thankful they were for everything.

 In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess. 5:18)

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Journey with Jesus,