Hope for the New Year

Hello, dear ones! I trust that you had a wonderful and blessed celebration of our Savior’s birth with family and friends. Our family was so blessed to have a quiet Christmas at home. I was strong and inspired enough to plan and do a few last-minute decorations and table settings with the help of the kids and our two househelps. Did you feel like our to-do lists are way bigger than our capacities and time allotments? I did but didn’t dwell too much on it. There were things that were not done on time but it didn’t really matter. To be a slave of tasks and time is one thing I can’t subject my frail self to.

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So, the cold Christmas season has brought fresh perspective and inspiration to my heart and soul as I await the coming year (a big “thank you” to all who leave me messages of love, hope, and kindness that really encourage me). Yes, my heart is filled with abundant hope, even amid my existing health situation. The Lord is faithful to let our hearts and hopes go on and on and on. He is the One who walks with us and sees us through every season. Even when we are weak and don’t seem to know how to fire up our faith, He remains faithful all throughout. Hallelujah!

I am so inspired to meet the new year with plans for more of the things that would bring purpose and meaning to my life. No, not more tasks that I wouldn’t be able to complete anyway, but more motivation, more determination, more focus, more purpose, more intentionality, more dedication, more heart, more discipline, more courage. <Exhale>. That is humongous, but you know what? Before Christmas, I found enough courage to let myself into projects that, though they might tire my body, will bring more life, more vibrancy into my ailing and weak self. What I’m saying is that, I don’t want my illnesses and sufferings and fears to be sovereign over my life. I want God to be.

This coming year, by God’s unceasing grace, I would like to focus more on the ff.:

More Purposeful (More Living)

I had written a while back about living just a fraction of a normal life, what with sickness, suffering, and a fraction of a person’s normal strength. My days are dotted with long pauses (rests) to recover from hard bouts of suffering. Often they stretch to an hour or two, a few times a day. Sometimes, I don’t have appetite or determination left to rise up at all and do something productive. At other times, I just want to defy them (the difficulties) and rise up even if I haven’t fully recovered and do something fulfilling, like watercolor painting.

I realized that’s exactly the problem: I’m not consistent. Sometimes, I muster enough courage to stand up against the nasty bullying of my sickness and suffering, sometimes I give in piteously and accomplish nothing.

Now, I’m inspired enough to plan my days and pursue that which will bring color and fulfilment to my days and life with determination. I’m praying that I will be able to follow it through.

More Fruitful

Our fruitfulness is what we can show for our salvation. It’s what the Lord requires.

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:8)

You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit shouldremain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you. (John 15:16)

It can’t be that we are followers of Christ and yet, there are no fruits of it in our lives that others may see. We may soak ourselves in prayer and the Word everyday, we may attend church religiously, but if change is not seen on the outside, what good is it? Our internal transformation should flow over the surface. The way we live life (our motives, words and actions) are the fruits of our faith and love for Jesus.

Just the peace and joy we have inside and are etched on our faces and seen in our eyes is already a solid proof, the fruit of living by and walking in the Spirit. They are infectious and affect others.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. (Gal. 5:22-23)

So, for me, more of joy, thankfulness, patience, grace and kindness for 2018 and beyond. Grace is love beyond self, shown in choosing humility over pride and forgiving readily.

It’s growing in grace (see 2 Pet. 3:18). When we grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, we bear much fruit. There can’t be bearing without first growing.

More brave

I never imagined that fear and courage could exist at the same place and at the same time. My illness and suffering brings me indescribable fear that I will never get used to. The attacks scare me so much that sometimes I tremble inside in utter fear of how in the world I could come through each one alive. But it is the same illness and suffering that has made me so brave and courageous to fully trust in God in the midst of it all. I myself marvel at how I could be so brave through it all, for it’s a pure, unwavering trust – naked and raw.

To trust God with nothing but our faith, His Word and His testimonies to hold onto is scary. We can’t see or touch anything. Everything is invisible. But that is faith.

I am not brave outside of my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is my brave, my courage, my strength. So, if I want to be more brave, I need more of Jesus in my life. More of Him, His Word, His teachings and promises. You see, my physical sufferings have brought trauma in my life. It is this trauma that makes me afraid to step out of my comfort zone.

When the disciples were scared because of the winds and waves that buffeted their boat while the Lord slept soundly, He said to them, “Where is your faith?”

He’s saying that, if we have complete faith in God, we should not be afraid. (I wish I could tell my heart and nerves that when suffering attacks, or when I’m anxious or worried).

I pray for more vibrant life and purpose, more fruitfulness in the Spirit, and more courage to step out in faith for all of us this new year.

Sharing with you some of our Christmas photos:

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Christmas in My Heart

My thoughts and feelings days before Christmas are a rhythm of struggles, hard prayers and deep ponderings  on the meaning of all these things we do during this season, and also a flurry of birthday celebrations at home. There is this sadness that hovers over my soul that I can’t quite understand where it’s coming from. Maybe it’s a blend of all the unanswered prayers and unfulfilled dreams that I’m nursing in my heart. Whatever it is, I trudge through the days before Christmas meditatively. I listen to praise and I find that there’s a need to lock my eyes and mind on the lyrics for them to sink in and reach deep into that space where there’s a need for sanctification and revival.

Practice drawing from two years ago.

Practice painting from two years ago.

I cannot decide whether to be fully joyful because ’tis the season or to be part sad and part celebratory. The primary feeling is like trudging through thick mud and every step is heavy and hard. I know that while most people around the world are in the thick (and thrill!) of Christmas preparations, there are also those who do not know how to live through it without feeling unhappy, depressed, exhausted, and envious and coveting (realities of life!)

But this thing I affirmed to the Lord: I still have hope, faith, and a prayer. And I begged for help, help in every area that I need it. Help in thinking and feeling right, for starters.

I realized that there is great internal conflict when we believe we are ready to move on – from trials and miseries, sickness and suffering – and start afresh and live healed and free, but God is not. When we have had enough of the hardships and self-pity and living less than the life promised by the Lord, and yet, that fervently-prayed-for dream stays out of reach – it is a burden that is hard to bear.

It becomes a struggle between not relinquishing faith and hope and giving in to defeat. It is a hard and bitter struggle.

Have faith in God. This reminder from the Lord Jesus sometimes dangles over the skirmishes between fear and faith, weakness and strength. And though I am counting 14 years behind me that I have had unwavering faith and relentless prayers for my healing, I still ask it to this day and as fervently, if not more.

Maybe there is a need to not count the years or months that we have not been answered. Maybe it would be better if we stopped counting the years of unanswered prayers and instead, count the years that God saw us through. Maybe the Apostle Paul’s advice to forget those things which are behind [our old life] and reaching forward to those things which are ahead can also be applied to the things in the past where we had been tried and tested again and again.

Yes, and to believe that everyday is a new opportunity to renew our faith and to approach the throne of grace and mercy with confidence. That every day can be a day of new beginnings and fresh starts and for that long-awaited miracle.

That is what Christmas brings us: a new hope, a new believing. The tidings of great joy and peace and goodwill to all men that should not lose their promise and power and fulfilment. It is the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ after all (or the remembrance of it).

What we need this Christmas (and all the days of the year for that matter) is not more of our desires and the world. We need more of Christ – His presence. His powerful presence that can transform us. We don’t know it yet, but maybe in our transformation or re-transformation, we can find our healing.

Maybe we have focused so much more on ourselves and our needs (I know I have) than on our devotion to Him. Maybe our adoration of Him has been watered down by the trials we’ve had to go through. But everyday (and not only on Christmas) is an opportunity to deepen our devotion to Him, to make our service to Him real and rich.

A WONDERFULLY BLESSED, CHRIST-FILLED CHRISTMAS TO ALL!

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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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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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All That We Ever Need

I feel that there is a need to focus fully on the Lord Jesus and exult Him in every circumstance, especially now that there is a potential for me to hurt all over, emotionally and bodily. I guess grief is capable of doing that. But I can’t afford to allow it. I’m already ailing and weak as it is, so, like a little child, I trail my Shepherd close behind, holding on to His coat and will not let go. Imagine a child at night who is afraid of the dark and clings to her mama’s skirt? That’s me now.

This was a painting from last year, illustration of the first part of Psalm 23.

This was a painting from last year, illustration of the first part of Psalm 23.

But I don’t want to just feel afraid and weak, I want to lift up the Lord Jesus in my life. I’m believing there is power that emanates from doing that. And so in this post, I will endeavor to do just that.

Sometimes, unawares, we choose between the Lord Jesus and the things of this world (our work, hobbies, chores, leisures, passions, and even obsessions). We may do it in a day or a string of days. We are unaware in that, we don’t really consciously choose to not pursue the things of God, but we somehow know deep inside that we have neglected the Lord and our time with Him. Sometimes, it could be that we spend more time with other things than with Him. It’s being back to Mary and Martha all over again. Whose heart do we carry in our bosom?

There really is a struggle. We are pulled on two opposite directions at once: God or things of this world. We cannot just pray for a more intimate relationship with the Savior then go ahead and pursue other things. We have to intentionally draw near to Him, with everything in us, not a body without the mind and heart.

There are two ways that I approach God, both not on my own volition alone, but I believe, always by the Holy Spirit of God. For the Lord says —

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts. (Zech. 4:6)

One is when I am driven by a great need (and admittedly, in great panic also). I fling my arms toward heaven without a care and present my supplications to God with much beseeching and tears. These are prayers that I repeat over and over until the peace of God descends and settles in my heart. (I know I’m guilty of redundancy of synonyms, but I still want to share the meaning of “supplication” below. Sometimes, we know the meaning of a word but not how meaningful it is).

supplication: the action of asking or begging for something earnestly or humbly.

In the first approach, I imagine myself like a typhoon coming to God, storming heaven with my panicked, urgent prayers. I thank God that by His Spirit, He is always the first One I run to. Even when the crisis is a hurting heart, when a good friend would have been a perfect person to turn to and confide in, I always choose to run to my Lord Jesus and talk with Him. Who could be a better friend than He is? He is my bestest friend.

The other approach is like gentle waves lapping against a placid shore. I come to the Lord Jesus with a calm heart overflowing with gratitude and love. I turn to my side and ready myself to commune with my Everlasting Love. Sometimes, I am a little child in His lap; at other times, His Bride, His Beloved. I love these times with my Lord. I reach out for my gratitude journal, then my prayer journal. During these precious times, I like to write down my prayers. It feels like there is a special intimacy when I do, like I am keeping our conversations within the pages and when I close my journal, my words of praise and petition are sealed.

It is only now that the magnitude and fullness of God’s providence [divine guidance and care] is slowly sinking in. God wants to be our all in all, that’s why He has assumed many roles from the foundation of the world. Creator, Life Giver, Provider, Healer, Savior, Redeemer, Deliverer, Everlasting Father, Counsellor, Comforter, Prince of Peace, Good Shepherd, Immanuel [He is always with us], King of kings [sovereign]. He wants to be our Husband, Bridegroom, Friend. Even His name He has not withheld, for His name is a strong tower. He is all wisdom. He has it all planned out. He has it all covered from A to Z. He is Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. He sees throughout eternity!

And yet we fear. We panic. We go astray. We turn to other gods, vain things. Broken cisterns. And turn away from the Fountain of Living Waters. We experience a whole plethora of unprofitable emotions and submit ourselves to weak and beggarly elements.

God wants to be God to us, but most often, we don’t let Him. We doubt, we become faithless. We doubt His love, His trustworthiness, His goodness. But He is ALL that! He is Love. He is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. AND He wants to be all THAT to us.

So, let Him love us, provide for us, heal us, give us peace, make us strong, make us righteous. Let Him delight in us by our love and obedience. Let Him be honored by our faith and trust and hope. Let Him perform miracles by our not doubting. Let Him be God to us and ALL the blessings and goodness that come with that name. Let Him be big [heaven is His throne and the earth His footstool – that.is.big!], almighty, all-powerful.

In Him we are complete. Whole.

Psalm 23 says it all.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
    I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
    he leads me beside peaceful streams.
    He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
    bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
    for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
    protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
    My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
    all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
    forever.

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The In-between Place

I didn’t realize it until recently that that is exactly where I am, have been this past almost 14 years. The in-between place, the place where one is suspended between the past and the longed-for place somewhere in the future. The in-between place can be a hard place to be. It’s not really where you want to find yourself in, and yet, you are somehow powerless to leave, not until the time is ripe and good and it’s what God has planned. The in-between place is a place of waiting. Waiting for a breakthrough – in career, in finding the right life partner, in conceiving a child, in healing. It could be healing from a painful or traumatic past or healing from an illness.

This blog theme painting was rashly and haphazardly done... but I hope you get the message :) .

This blog theme painting was rushly and haphazardly done, but … you get the message :) .

The in-between place is the valley of life. It is low, often dark and lonely. It’s a place of longing. For most, a deep longing. And yet, the in-between place is a place of healing itself, a conveyance from the place of brokenness toward that bright hope where things will have shifted into one’s favor and everything will have been made whole. The mind has forgotten and the wounds in the heart and soul have healed. But that is only one particular case.

However much we want to reach that breakthrough, it doesn’t entirely depend on ourselves. But it mostly depends on Providence. In the meantime (yes, meantime is the in-between place), we can make ourselves flourish while we wait. The in-between place is not necessarily barren but more of preparatory. Of learning and growing. The in-between place is either a journey or a resting place or both. You journey in the dark, uncertain valley toward your dream and hoped-for destination and you also rest awhile. Either way, you learn the hardest and most important lessons. The in-between place is a classroom and the hardships and challenges if offers are the teachers.

Faith

Hope

Trust

Patience

Courage

Perseverance

Steadfastness

Faith and everything that comes with it are what will make us thrive in this place. And they are what will bring us to our breakthrough.

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

And while we gain hard-fought learning and wisdom in this place, it also offers the greatest opportunity to know God more intimately. Which, by the way, is the finest form of wisdom. We don’t come to know Him as the God who sits on His throne and barks orders to His angel armies while they scurry about. A God who keeps Himself aloof with the affairs of His people. No, but we will come to know a God who is very personal, who wants Himself to be known intimately, who wants to build a divinely passionate relationship with us. One which the gates of hell cannot prevail against. One which no one and nothing can pluck us out of. Or separate us from.

That was the kind of relationship God wanted to establish with His people, the Israelites of old. But for them, the in-between place, that place between the bondage of Egypt and the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey, is just a wilderness, a harrowing journey they didn’t care much about. In fact, they complained and murmured continually. Some of us (even I on occasions) have been like the Israelites one time or another while waiting to arrive at our Promised Lands. And then, there are those who never arrive, just like many of the Israelites had not, their carcasses scattered in the desert. Just because they did not have faith.

And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. (Debut. 8:2-3)

Allowed you to hunger. I very well know that the Prophet Moses wasn’t only talking about hunger for food, but also for that longed-for something at the end of our in-between place. I believe even the ancient Israelites weren’t thinking only about food, but they were also hankering for a place they could call home, where they could at last settle down and take root.

But now we understand that God allows us this hunger. For only through knowing it that we turn to Him, realizing sooner or later that only Him could truly satisfy.

So, we surrender to this hunger and to the will of the Sustainer. And just like how He had provided for His people in the past, He will provide everything we need. For He has a plan for us. And His plan is perfect. He will bring us to our Promised Land.

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Living Life in the Hard

I settle in the warm, silky water of my tub, my head nestled in its smooth curve that hugs my back. I close my eyes and utter a silent, heartfelt prayer. (I have developed the practice of saying a prayer in my heart and soul whenever gratitude hits me, those moments when I could clearly see the difference between misery and comfort. And even contentment. I am quick to grab those moments and hold them close for just a while until I release them into the air with my gratitude and prayer of thanks).

hard places

With my eyes closed and my flesh caressed by magnolia-scented water laced with lavender salts, I say my thanksgiving to God. My heart overflows. I don’t think about the fact that Felix put me in the tub and scrubbed me with a stiff loofah earlier and that he will come back to rinse me, wrap me in my fluffy robe, then carry me back to the waiting wheelchair (and always with a thump!), and then the half-hour of rest in bed until I could sit up again to apply lotion and change into fresh clothes.

I don’t think about those things, the things that others do for me because I am unable to do them myself. I don’t think about the fact that I can’t walk and go out and many other things that I cannot do, not to mention the physical suffering and difficulties. I just want to dwell in this moment now that I am in this tub and my skin is silky and all is well in my revised definition of well.

For I had known months of not being able to bathe. So, these here are the fringes of bliss. If not heaven itself.

How do you live life in the hard? It’s not always been like this for me for the past more than 13 years of being ill. In the earlier years when one does her best to hold on to the old life of good health and complete strength while facing the stark reality that things may never go back to where they were before, or worse, if it all ends up to an untimely death – it was pure horror. That fear, that uncertainty – they make a body and soul tremble to the core.

Those early years for me could be defined by one word: desperation. When you’re desperate, your desperation will dictate the life you are to live. You don’t even plan it. There’s no time for careful planning. There are only bursts of panic and a kind of faith you will never find in a sunny, rose-strewn pathway. That kind of faith is only birthed in the shadow of the valley of death. A faith that has a life of its own, a living, breathing, moving faith. A faith that can move mountains in its desperation.

In those times, you will not concern yourself with the question on how you live your life, because first, you need to survive. Many a time in my whole ailing life had I struggled only to survive.

Then there were the years of aridness, of being out of desperation but being stuck in painful waiting. When your days are marked by sighing, wishing, longing, waiting. When you still can’t find your way to thanksgiving for the constant heaviness of soul. It is a dry, fruitless land. A tundra.

During my tundra months, even the dandelions were envied. They proliferate the vacant lot beside our house. Even with the cruel intensity of the summer sun, they stand and not a single, tiny petal or leaf shows weakness. They grow, they exist without a care. I had seriously wished I were a dandelion.

When you’re in that barren place of waiting, where uncertainty is the prevailing climate of the land more than great expectations, how you live life is dictated by your surroundings. Faith again plays an important role, but so does hope. Steadfast faith and tenacious hope. Those are your loyal companions, friends that stick closer than a brother.

The year 2015 was that for me (well, one of those years). Faith had me clinging to the powerful promises of the psalms and hope drove me to edit photos everyday with a chosen verse from a psalm and shared them on FB. One hundred and fifty psalms in one hundred fifty days. That’s almost covered half of the year, the same amount of time of living in faith and hope and not knowing the other offerings of life, like enjoyment and happiness and dreaming. In fact, I had stopped writing on my blog during those months. I only posted on IG, photos of my tea or the pastry I was able to eat, with a huge pink hibiscus in the background plucked from our garden. Or a book I was trying to read. Or my Tim – from school, sleeping beside me, eating, smiling.

Those photos I shared were but snippets of life. But still, they were signs of life. Of faith. Of hope.

The hibiscus tree with those huge pink flowers was directly in my line of vision when I looked out of the French doors through the patio to the garden beyond. When physical weakness and discomforts and sadness and the desolation of waiting uncertainly tried to steal my hope and semblance of peace, I looked at the hibiscus tree boasting of pink flowers the size of a plate. I always found hope in it. The flowers opening wide and smiling to the world were a sign of life for me.

Just as I had found hope at that piece of blue between the roofs many years ago, when I had sat in our garage all day and bemoaned my hapless state. Praying and waiting for healing had felt like digging on hard concrete and barely making a scratch. I had looked at that piece of blue wedged between our garage roof and that of the neighbor’s, a very bright cerulean in the mid-afternoon sun, and hope had come rushing back with a fresh vigor.

As long as I can see that piece of blue up there, where my Savior and Healer lives, where all life flows — I will believe! I will have hope!

I had stared up at that framed blue sky and repeated those affirmations before I was wheeled back to my room to rest.

In the hard, you live your life as the circumstances present themselves, but always with faith and hope. Faith and hope are the threads that hold everything together. When both are lost, everything unravels. When everything unravels, it would be like trying to hold water in your fists.

Felix wheels me back to our bedroom and I cocoon myself in my thick bathrobe as I settle in bed to rest after my bath. A glimpse of the elusive good life flashes in front of me and I get it: living life in the hard is intentionally pursuing and doing the God things and collecting all the gifts, big and small, special or ordinary, neat or messy, because they all add up at the end of the day.

wisteria wall

“Wisteria” walls of our bedroom.

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The Posture of Worship

The posture of worship for the strong is on their knees or standing, hands raised towards heaven while singing with all their hearts and might. There maybe exuberant clapping, dancing, and jumping, depending on the music, or trembling and crying in the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. I have yet to experience these. Most of the time, I find myself in a prone position while I do my best to focus on breathing well, which is often hard, while the Jesus Finest Generation Choir sings during worship service. It’s been mostly like that these past more than 13 years. I cannot count the times I had marveled at how my difficult circumstances hardly ever changes. I look at the singers on the riser and wonder how different my situation is from them. How vastly different! And it pains me to think why it has always been so for many years now.

"We love Him because He first loved us."

If you have been in my blog orbit these past more than 5 years, you know how I have struggled against the hardships my sickness and suffering brings and all the emotional, mental, and spiritual turmoil I go through. And though I always write about my embattled faith still standing strong through it all, it felt like my relationship with God was fraying around the edges, like it couldn’t be entirely, seamlessly, flawlessly whole while I wrestled with the many important issues in my faith life. There were the struggles against envy, self-pity, bitterness, resentment, discouragement, numbness, hurts and pains, deep longings, sadness, anger, fear, cynicism, coldness, and silent rebellion in the heart. Whew!

There were the starings into empty space with empty mind and numb heart, wishing that the blankness would swallow up all the seemingly endless suffering. And it would suddenly be all over.

But recently, the Lord called me into His rest, His holy presence, not through a powerful, Spirit-filled worship, but through gentle whispers in my heart.

A lot has happened internally since then. And though my sickness and suffering has yet to relent, I realized that I was being transformed deep inside. There had been many “refining processes” before. I call them fiery trials and through them, a lot of changes have happened in me. But through the years with no complete healing in sight, I had continued to wrestle with God, much like Jacob did.

This time, God has revealed to me the posture of worship. It is not always standing and singing.

It is not always an abandoned praise where you give all that is within you. It is all that you are. Even when you’re not singing or praising. It is who you are during the times that you cannot rise to sing and lift up your hands.

The posture of worship even in the most difficult times is humility, deep gratitude, and unquestioning faith. The highest worship we could give God is our faith even when it feels like we’ve been thrown into the fiery furnace lit seven times stronger and that it spins like a dryer. (In a cement manufacturing plant, you will see a giant revolving kiln, its height could take up two floors. This is where limestone and other materials are melted to make cement. You will see the product coming out of the kiln like red, liquid fire. The surrounding area is so hot).

Even so, but to still believe in Him and trust Him. To still draw closer to Him and believe that He is good, gracious, and plenteous in mercy. To never doubt that ever again.

To spurn the thoughts swirling in our minds that He is a severe God, that He doesn’t listen to our most fervent prayers. That maybe He’s not fair? That He loves us less than the others? For “Jacob He has loved, but Esau He has hated” (Rom. 9:13), right?

But we don’t embrace these. We cast them out from us. Because we are those children who love their Father, who want to keep on loving Him. Forever. For only in this we become strong. Only in this we are happy – truly, spiritually happy.

everlasting love

My painting of last year. (Please excuse my terrible brush lettering).

So we love Him, for doesn’t the Bible say that we do because He first did it? “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). And this love didn’t only start 2000 years ago. It is from everlasting. He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). (I always want to remember this). So, even in our very difficult suffering, in our very hard places, we will love Him (crying).

We will love Him even through the blinding rain of our tears.

We will love Him because we know. We know the Truth, We know His Word. To love Him is to trust Him. No fight left in us. It is just a willing surrender. A trusting surrender. A loving surrender. That is the posture of worship.

No defiance, no bitterness, no resentment, no numbness, no hardheartedness. Just joyfully loving Him. Like a child who adores and clings to her father.

How can that even be possible when you’re battered by sickness and suffering, buffeted by diverse trials? And He, who alone can take us out of them, seems to be not moving a finger? And why ever not? All things are possible with Him, in Him, through Him, and for Him.

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

I love that.

So, I need not envy others. In Christ I am complete. That is the simple truth. If I believe otherwise, I have listened to the devil’s lie. The Lord Jesus did not only die to save me, He also resurrected so I, too, will live forevermore.

So, we do not only worship the Healer because we’re desperate for healing. We worship because that’s how we’ve been wired. We are created to worship Him. This is the meaning of worshiping in spirit and in truth. We worship even through trials and tribulations, for we do not worship only because of our circumstances, but in His truth. The truth that remains unchanged forever. We worship in that truth. And in the spirit, where the love sowed by the Holy Spirit is connected to its Creator.

The posture of worship will always be on our knees, literally and figuratively.

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Going Back to the First and Greatest Commandment

Yes, because, to go straight to the heart of the matter, that is the whole purpose of our existence. Are we created to exist for ourselves, follow our own desires, build our own “empires” and reign in them like kings and queens? We can try them all for a time, but sooner or later, we will realize that apart from God, we can do nothing. Or fall upon Mark 8:36 and it’s too late:

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Even those who are already in Him but have grown or are growing cold and cynical (or doubtful, bitter, and resentful), perhaps because of the diverse trials that seem to cling like barnacles to a rock – they need this, too.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I'm quite happy.

FIRST AND GREAT COMMANDMENT. This was just a quick sketch and wash on my Monologue journal but I’m quite happy.

At the start of the year, I wrote about hope when I was grappling for inspiration and courage to face yet another year, still with the hardships of my illnesses hounding me. A week after that, I wrote about the way of being filled up with joy, as a glimmer of light and hope and a bright future seemed to dawn on my horizon. Even if only spiritually. For now.

As the week stretched to another week, love and surrender beckoned me. I so much want to shed off the weariness, the humdrum rhythm of my days and heart. I would do anything just to break it off. I want to challenge myself and coax it out of its tired stupor, as in sick and tired stupor (pun intended), and be greatly expectant of life and God’s miracles once again. For I believe there is no other way to live life than that.

So, how do we love God above all things, with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our souls? Do we even know how to, really know? Oh, I know of many people who do. Their lives are spelled L-O-V-E and S-A-C-R-I-F-I-C-E. They don’t live for pleasures. They don’t even think about them secretly in their hearts. Their joy is to be at the feet of Jesus many hours everyday, praising, worshiping, praying, fasting. Or trekking valleys and mountains, looking for the lost soul, holes in their tattered shoes or sandals. Yet, that’s their greatest joy and contentment. Yes, I have heard stories like these in our Church, especially those who come from the remotest parts of the provinces, where walking with their own two feet are the only available, or affordable, mode of transportation. These are those who you will never see sporting anything on your FB newsfeed. God bless them!

Then there are those who are fully blessed – spiritually, physically, materially – that they leap in joy and shout out their praises. Who wouldn’t? Even me who is weak and ailing, when the cruel claws of suffering relinquish their hold on me – my spirit shouts and I would love to squeeze the face of my good, good Father in thanksgiving. In those healing moments, my spirit shouts “Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!”, followed by “I love You! I love You! I love You!” And mean it too, with all I have.

But what does loving God with all we are look like when suffering squeezes out all our peace, joy, strength, and even hope? It will look like a soul slumped at Jesus’ feet, begging for mercy and deliverance, enveloped with sorrow, yet full of faith. Faith that is bold enough to proclaim —

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him… (Job 13:15

Keeping God’s commandment is the whole duty of man (see Ecc. 12:13) and the first and greatest commandment is to love Him above all things.

…”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” (Mat. 22:37)

Sometimes, this proves to be challenging, hard for those who are struggling against bitterness and cynicism. We can go through the motions, but nothing is hidden from God. He knows our hearts more than we can ever attempt to. He who has made our heart, shall He not know?

The Lord looks down from heaven;
    he sees all the children of man;
14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out
    on all the inhabitants of the earth,
15 he who fashions the hearts of them all
    and observes all their deeds. (Ps. 33:13-15 ESV)

Love for God is more than a surge of our fickle emotions, more than a high or a thrill. It is a decision, a sacred commitment. A covenant. Love is a verb. To obey God humbly and willingly is to love Him. The Lord Jesus said,

“If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

Sometimes, we find it hard to love Him fervently because we can’t seem to feel His love for us. But we know from His Word that He loves us, yes, even when it doesn’t look that way sometimes. So, we work it out, as we do in all our important earthly relationships. We pray. We worship. I have found out, as many others have before me, that meeting the Lord Jesus Christ in worship is the surest way to feel His love.

With my weak diaphragm and problems with breathing, I can only sing one or two praise songs, if at all. But during those moments as I humbly present myself to Him, I am enveloped by His light and love and my worship becomes a sacred dance. Our dance. His Spirit and mine. And I know then that I am deeply, completely, unfailingly, eternally, loved.

This year, I am poised to continue to run the race that is set before me, forgetting the 13 years that I had not received my healing. The 13 long years that I had suffered, that I had been left behind, that I had struggled against deep longings and emotions that were unprofitable. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Or record of unanswered prayers.

Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead (part of Phil. 3:13) —

— with a renewed commitment to love God above all things. Above my healing and dreams and longings.

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Stirrings in My Soul

I was reading through the Gospel of Mark just a few weeks ago in my new KJV journaling Bible and when I came to that part wherein a father besought the Lord to heal his son who had a dumb spirit and the Lord answered him and said –

“If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

– it seemed like the Lord was shouting those words to me. Or maybe, it seemed to me that the words became louder and bigger and bolder. Like it was telling me, “Pay attention! Read me and believe.”

My watercolor painting of hills in the mist. (Reference photo from tournesol50.tumblr.com).

My watercolor painting of hills in the mist. (Reference photo from tournesol50.tumblr.com).

It’s not as if it was the first time that I have read it. I have read it countless times before and have even memorized it. But this time, it gripped me afresh. It kind of rained hope on me once again. To believe beyond doubts and fears. To believe beyond my present capacity to believe. For, as I have written previously, faith’s facets and strengths change with the seasons of life, with the trials and triumphs we go through.

How do I begin to tell the story of my faith? For the last 13 years saw my faith tested and strengthened and waxed weary and grown faint, then persevered again. It was steadfast for I never let go of it. But its quality has not been unchangeable.

In the early months and years after I received Jesus and His salvation, my faith was defiant. Audacious. So much so that I scorned the cardiologist’s warnings that I didn’t have much time to live if I wasn’t treated. But I couldn’t believe in him, the whole lot of them. I could only trust my Savior and Healer. I was obstinate with my newly-found faith.

For years it was like that. I was resolutely believing and trusting and keeping still, awaiting the great miracle of healing from the Lord: the likes of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3), the crippled man at the Pool of Bethesda (John 5), the man with the palsy borne by four who was let through the roof (Mark 2), and many, many more.

But it didn’t happen that way. Little miracles littered the years, miracles of increment healing. Moments of healing here and there. And though they were not of the same caliber as the ones in the Bible (or even with the ones in our Church, Jesus Miracle Crusade International Ministry), they were born out of desperation, out of the shadow of death, and are therefore, very, very much appreciated and will never be forgotten.

Healing came in different forms. I wasn’t suddenly touched by the miraculous and then leaping and bounding and shouting. But it came with the length of time.

But unhealings came, too. Times when I was back to taking to my bed. For months. But my faith held me fast. And my faith would bring me back again to partial healing. On and on it went. Sure, I counted the years that passed, the years that I expected complete healing to come. Before the eighth year rolled in, I found light and hope with the story of Aeneas, paralyzed and bedridden for eight long years, but was healed through the prayer of Apostle Peter (Acts 9).

When Aeneas’ story of healing didn’t become mine, there was still the woman with the issue of blood 12 years. And on it went until today. Exactly to the day as I write this, October 15th. Thirteen years later.

I have written about my treasure chest of small miracles of healings and deliverances (small because they weren’t entire, but still much-needed-and-prayed-for miracles). I hold them close to my bosom. Very, very precious. But if you’ll ask me how my faith looks like now, what will I answer you?

My faith has taken great batterings in the past 13 years. It has stood, fought wildly, defied all odds, stumbled, been crippled, crawled, nursed back to life. It was filled and grown and expanded to bursting at the seams. It was painfully pruned. It was whittled away, bit by bit, until it succumbed to sad reality, the new normal. There is probably no forthcoming glorious miracle. It probably may not come that way. The defiant, audacious faith became subdued and pliant, accepting its fate.

The face of faith became the face of gratitude, running deep and steady, like the greenest, quiet river. For life that’s still holding me tight. For it had come to the point where the dream of walking and traveling again seemed so out of reach and even my mind could not conceive it, no matter how active and vibrant my imagination has always been.

There were always three stages: busy begging for life and for suffering to ease out, busy thanking God for deliverance from death and the subsequent partial healing, then the deep desire to be fully well. By this time, the desire increases and looks on the possibility, tentatively testing out faith once again, first in the mind and heart, then the first few steps. If at all.

For it seems like land has become a vast ocean to me where my feet may fail. The life I used to know eons ago – how do I re-enter it? So I whisper a prayer, morning and evening, “Dearest Lord Jesus, help me embrace the healed and victorious life and not fear and shun it.”

Throughout these 13 years, I look at two situations in life: the sick and the terminally-ill (or even those who had died before their time) and the perfectly and completely healthy. The former I can derive scant cups of hope and strength to inspire me through my own trudgings and stir me to pour out praises and thanksgiving to God for life that’s still holding me tight. The latter I gape at in miserable envy.

But at this time in my life, I’m weary of looking at both. I want to look out beyond, beyond all these misery and envyings, even beyond my cluttered desk of watercolors where my world is vibrant and happy despite of, to that place where my Shepherd can (and will!) bring me. A place where healing and victory dwell. A place where all things are possible!

Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” (Mark 9:23)

Today, I read Numbers Chapter 13, Spies Sent Out to Canaan. At the end of the chapter, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and I wrote it down on the margin of my journaling Bible.

My Promised Land is the land of my healing and victory, a land that flows with perfect health and strength and peace and joy. I must not be afraid to enter my Promised Land and conquer it. I must pluck out the fruits of it – grapes, figs, and pomegranates – until juices run down my chin. Like Caleb and Joshua, I must be courageous and trust God will bring me to it.

Amen and Amen!

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Journey with Jesus,