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,

Home

Home is all I know of now. When you come visiting, I’m always home. You know when you’re homebound and unable to travel, there is always home. Being strapped home is not so bad. I’m grateful for home. I thank the Lord everyday for our beautiful home. Beautiful, not only because of the things found inside and the patch of green grass, plants, and trees that comprises our small garden outside. Beautiful because the Lord shines His light upon it. He sits upon the throne of our love, adoration, and praises. I can feel His constant presence within the walls of our home and out there in our patio.

Hubby's photo of Taal Lake as viewed from Canyon Woods.

Hubby’s photo of Taal Lake as viewed from Canyon Woods.

But home had not always been lovely for me and my young family, the kind which caresses your heart and soul in peace so that you want to breathe out a whisper toward heaven, “Thank You, God!”

We were still in the early days of building our home together, Hannah was a few weeks old baby, when my husband and I had an ugly fight which turned out into him clearing off his closet and leaving, and I, baffled and totally heartbroken. When you love perfect in everything, a wrecked marriage and home could be your ruin, too.

And so, our beautiful house became just that for me: a place where I went to at the end of a busy work day. No love, no family, no peace. Happiness was superficial and joy was foreign.

When the Lord finally restored us, His forgiveness, salvation and unconditional love pouring out upon our wrecked lives, I was too sick to keep house. I watched our mended family while I went in and out of near-drowning in fear and illness, and that didn’t comfort me. For years after our salvation and restoration, I lived in fear, uncertainty, and joylessness, the constant companions of sickness and suffering.

For the past 13 years where I experienced intermittent episodes of partial healing and recovery and of becoming sicker and walking under the shadow of death, home had become fragmented for me, offering little parts of it where I could hide and hope to find relief. There was Hannah’s room, then a vacant room adjacent to it (which was to become Tim’s room), the garage, the dining area.

In December 2004, I didn’t want to stay home. I thought that if I did, I would drown in fear and sickness and die. And so we stayed in our church’s fasting house in Pampanga. I wanted us to rent an apartment near it and live there indefinitely. But on New Year’s Day, God spoke to me: “Go home, my child. Wherever you go, I am there with you.” Since that day until 2006, I was home.

In 2006, home for me were the road and the places of crusades we went to all over Luzon. Certainly, an episode of partial healing and recovery.

The years that followed saw me giving birth to Tim and then sicker and weaker again that traveling, however near, posed a threat to my life. There were weeks and months that I made my home in our Astrovan parked in our garage. I lay in the van’s bed all day, protected from the curious eyes of neighbors and passersby by a small square of batik cloth and an umbrella anchored between the van’s rear door and the garage gate when it rained.

Then there was the time my husband moved the bed from the guest room into the dining room near the lanai door. Marichris’, our housekeeper and also my caregiver, silent movements in the kitchen were a comfort. And so I lay there all day for weeks and months until our own bedroom was a welcome refuge for my very sick self once again.

For years I coveted the lives and homes of our neighbors where there was no sickness but only happiness and normal living.

But with my steadfast faith and persevering prayers (and those in our Church led by our beloved pastor) and growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ through His Word, came healing (though partial), strength, fresh hope, and inspiration once again. And this time, it is sturdier than all that came before. Because of the enduring mercies of God. Because He hears and honors the prayer of the faithful.

Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. (James 5:11)

I don’t know how it happened, but it looks like the Lord has lifted off the shroud of fear and gloom of my heart and home, and in its place, He set His good and perfect gifts: His shimmering light and daily doses of His unfailing love, grace, strength, beauty, inspiration, and joy.

There is true beauty and peace in our faithful and intentional abiding in Him and His Word. His presence in our lives and our deep awareness of it are power. 

Our home. Those mounted watercolor poppies are my work – praise God. They bring brightness to our living room.

Inspiration that oozes from my worshiping heart drives me to make our home beautiful, not only with the furniture (the arranging and re-arranging of them), the decor, the knickknacks, the fresh flowers in vases, the books in the shelves, the scents of pearly lavender bath or freshly-cut grass, but also with the conversations, laughters, playtimes, acts of love and kindness and sacrifices, celebrations, reconciliations, and all others that make a house a home.

The Lord has heaped His blessings upon me that my prayers and thanksgivings are never empty and futile and my days are full of color and meaning. Though in other people’s eyes, the blessings may look like trickles (they look that way to me sometimes, with me still not fully well, strong, and walking), they are actually honey drops from heaven, sweet to the soul and health to the bones.

Yes, by God’s wonderful grace, I am making our home beautiful in every sense of the word, but home for me, that true, peace- and love-filled home, is really in the arms of my Savior. Not literally, but like in the cleft of the Rock, where when my heart is overwhelmed, He leads me to the rock that is higher than I (Ps. 61:2), safe and comforted under the shadow of His wings and in His hand where no one can pluck me out (see John 10:28).

If I had known then that being still in my own bed (where it’s far more comfortable) and trusting God to come through for me wherever I was in our house, I wouldn’t have acted in panic in previous years. But maybe, my fears were more powerful than my faith then. Or maybe, it is now God’s perfect time to deliver me out of those paralyzing fears and let me bask in His peace and joy.

Last year when I fought fiercely for my life once again, I didn’t have the desire (nor the strength for that matter) to flee my room. In the deep recesses of my mind and soul, I held on to God’s powerful promises and made them my home. My sanctuary. And He met me there. I think of David’s words:

Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. (Ps. 4:4)

Home is wherever we are held tightly by our loving, faithful God.

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Journey with Jesus,

Steadfastness

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

steadfastness

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

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

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

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

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

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

He is faithful to His promise:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perseverance + patience = steadfastness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Journey with Jesus,

Encouragement for the Journey

On January 2, 18 years ago, I stood at one of the windows of Cainta Municipal Hall registering my chemical trading business. The whole place was deserted (maybe I was the only over eager person to be processing her business permit a day after New Year’s Day), but I was so full of hopes and big dreams it was hard to wipe the grin off my face or extinguish the brightness of my eyes.

encouragement for the journey

Eighteen years have come and gone since that day, I couldn’t have known then how much stuff could be squeezed into that entire length of time.

On New Year’s Day 2005, while being cooped up inside our Church’s fasting house in Pampanga (not fasting but desperately waiting for healing), depressed and uncertain of the future, the Lord spoke to me, “Go home, my child. Wherever you go, I am there with you.” This was not your ordinary “sensing” the voice of God, but it was the kind which pierced through my darkness, jolted me out of my pity party and sent us packing without delay. Within the same hour, we were leaving the sanctuary of the fasting house headed for home. Between that time and New Year’s Eve 2014, I recovered enough to be able to travel to crusades, give birth to my son Tim, start my blog, then fall ill again.

New Year’s Eve 2014 found me on the throes of death. When I knew for certain that I wouldn’t recover after hours of gasping for breath, I positioned myself in such a way that death may come not too harshly. But after turning, anticipating death to come in a matter of minutes, the struggle slackened. The powerful flow of air entered my system unobstructed. The breath of life flowed in and out of my nostrils, flooding my whole body with great relief. I didn’t know what to make of it: Was it deliverance? Was I out of danger? Has death given up on me? While confusion reigned during those few moments, a frantic voice was shouting in my mind, “Breathe! Breathe the air I freely give you!” I gave all my concentration in inhaling and exhaling. When I could finally turn over and speak, it was about half-hour to 2015.

It has been a year since that scary and glorious night, but I’m still here being held by God.

What do these things tell? Proverbs 19:21 may partly answer this question (for we can never completely unravel the mysterious workings of God):

There are many plans in a man’s heart,
Nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand. 

God’s purposes and plans, they will ultimately stand. We may never understand His ways and thoughts. That is not our part. Our part is to believe and trust. When we have finally grasped it, we would have embraced wisdom. That kind of wisdom that cannot be compared with all the things we may desire; it is in fact a tree of life (see Proverbs 3).

The path of a Christ-follower is never easy. It is strewn with trials of all kinds. After all, it is the narrow path and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (part of Acts 14:22). But the marvelous thing is, there is enduring peace and joy even in the midst of life’s storms. That is what walking after the Spirit and in wisdom brings. We are somewhat healed of our deep longings and we carry on day after day after day. That is why the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, the Helper in all our travails. Without Him, life is like a desolate land.

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (John 14:16-17)

How thoughtful and caring our Savior is that He wouldn’t leave us alone in this world that is full of troubles and toils! He had it all planned before the foundation of the world. He had it all covered. All we need to do is trust and obey. The Holy Spirit who dwells in us enables us, even empowers us to carry out God’s purposes and plans, even though sometimes we don’t understand. Yes, even through pain. Through Him we are constantly loved and held and kept.

David was a man who was acquainted with troubles. But he knew whom to trust and cling to. In all his tribulations (and there had been many!), he never grew weary of God. Yes, he had questions directed towards Him, strings of them. He walked so intimately with God that he knew He could very well handle them. Through deliverance or desperation, his sight was always heavenward. His praises and prayers became the psalms. Psalm 63 exquisitely expresses his dependence and awe of God:

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. (vv. 3-5)

In the midst of David’s stark difficulties, he learned that God’s lovingkindness is better than life. Life could be cruel. But beyond all this, there is hope that never dies. It is the life in Christ in the here and now that transcends all pain and hopelessness. It is this life in Him, in His enduring lovingkindness, that life on earth becomes bearable, a little piece of heaven. It is Christ in [us], the hope of glory (Col 1:27).

But some of us are more like Asaph (I am one occasionally :D). In Psalm 73, Asaph had been downright honest of what he’d been through. He was envious of other men, the ungodly, so much so that he admitted he almost stumbled in his own faith walk. He went on to enumerate the ungodly’s perceived “blessedness”:

They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like other men.

…They have more than heart could wish.

…[they] are always at ease… (vv. 5,7,12)

Then he looked into his own life and saw the huge difference. He saw how he had humbly subjected himself to God’s continual correction and for what? And as he tried to assimilate it all, it pained him too much. Until he went into the sanctuary and God gave him deeper understanding. He realized his error and his heart was grieved, so much so that he goaned, “was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You” (v. 22).

God made him see that he was the one who was truly blessed, not the ones he was envious of. He then wrote these beautiful words:

Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You hold me by my right hand.
24 You will guide me with Your counsel,
And afterward receive me to glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You.
26 My flesh and my heart fail;
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (vv. 23-26)

Oh, what truth! What great encouragement!

In our own faith journey, we were like Asaph one time or another. Isn’t it so wonderful that we have these treasures of wisdom now for our own counsel and edification? Oh, praise God for continuing to speak to us powerfully through His Word!

Like Asaph and all the other heroes of faith and early Christians that had journeyed before us, our journey of faith is peppered with lessons both painful and sweet. We have to embrace each one with humble hearts then echo Asaph’s praise (vv. 23-26).

I invite you to read and meditate on Psalm 73.

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Journey with Jesus,

The Wisdom of Proverbs 3

Before December rolled in, I stepped up my prayer life, praying at 12 noon and 6 in the evening, Monday to Saturday. I set my alarm so as not to miss my schedule. I was on a mission. My purpose was to bombard heaven with my prayers for healing, much like the widow at the beginning of Luke 18 who harassed the judge with her constant cries for help. I wanted to receive my miracle on Christmas and be able to go out with my family at last.

proverbs 3

December came and I noticed the lump on my chest (just below my collarbone), which has been dormant for years, suddenly becoming painful. Within a few days, it became inflamed, red, and seemed to be growing bigger and wider. I added a 3 o’clock prayer to my prayer regimen just for the healing of this lump that was becoming intensely painful each day.

Days before Christmas, it became so big and swollen it looked like a little apple ready to burst. It also brought terrible pain, it was hard to make the slightest movement. I couldn’t shift my position in bed and even if I lay still, intermittent pain tore at my flesh. I cried out in pain. I can’t count the times that I sat straight up, tears spurting from tightly-closed eyes while riding out the pain, and cried out to God for help, relief, and clarity. For this got me confused beyond words. One time I cried out, “Oh Lord Jesus! Do You still love me?” I realized that pain could turn a human into a beast and I determined to myself that wouldn’t happen to me. I have the Holy Spirit.

I spoke back His words to Him. You know, the son asking his father for bread and will he give him a stone? Or fish and will he give him a snake? I asked for my healing but I got another disease on my chest instead. It hurt me. It deeply hurt me that the Lord Jesus would do that to me. I thought we were very close. I thought we were friends. And if it was Satan who was doing it, why would He even allow it? These were really big, serious questions I had. In the midst of physical pain and suffering, disability, and confusion, conflicting thoughts roiled within me.

For the more than 12 years that I’ve been ill and have suffered, I had tried every spiritual and mental remedy and trick in the book that I knew of. Believe me: been there, done that. When your life is faced with difficult challenges, you want to hold onto something sturdy and stable. Generally, your faith and God’s Word ably play the part. But in the daily struggles, your mind wants to latch itself onto things that see you through moment by moment. They could be sources of inspiration and encouragement, like God’s promises.

To be able to bear life’s hard trials, the mind needs to sit on a steady flow of peace and the heart on some measure of joy.

But a very present physical pain sends everything into a tailspin. On those nights that pain stole my rest and peace, my mind refused to rise up to the occasion to fix everything as usual.

One night before Christmas, I groaned in pain, “My mind cannot absorb all this anymore. It has come to a dead-end. All this suffering is beyond me.” I sat up and cried my soul out. “Lord, in the midst of all these hardships and confusion and hurt, there is something, one last thing I’m not giving up and will never give up: my desire to get healed and live. I want to make this clear, my Lord Jesus: I. Want. To. Live. Satan can never steal that from me!” Suddenly, words stopped tumbling out of my lips. The stillness gripped me. Physical healing hadn’t come but something peaceful reigned over the turmoil in my mind and I didn’t want to utter a single word anymore.

The light in our room was dim but even with my closed eyes, I sensed a light shining around me. And there was peace and quiet. At the center of it was the Lord’s presence. Then, I just wanted to sing. Sing in my suffering! But that was what my soul yearned to do.

So, I sang. I sang the song that was most meaningful given my situation.

Ikaw ang ilaw ko sa dilim

(You are my light in the dark)

Ikaw ang gabay ko sa gabi

(You are my guide at night)

Ikaw ang pag-asa ng buhay ko

(You are the hope of my life)

Ikaw Panginoong Hesus

(You, Lord Jesus).

Copious tears came. Cleansing tears. Good tears. Tears of peace.

And the love of Jesus embraced me. It caressed my weary soul and body. I continued to sing. I sang not in desperation. I sang not because I needed healing. I sang because it was what I was created to do. I sang because the Lord Jesus Christ is worthy. I sang because I love Him, adore, and worship Him. I sang in trust, in peace, and in surrender. He owns me. He holds my life and future in His hands. There was nothing more to worry about.

I lay down to sleep, exhausted, but restored.

In the morning, I opened my Bible to Proverbs 3. Its wisdom spoke to me like it never did before. It was an affirmation of what I had experienced the night before.

For length of days, long life, and peace: Never depart from God’s commands. Hold onto them.

To find favor and good success in the sight of God: Retain steadfast love and faithfulness (do not be tempted to rebel in your heart or succumb to hopelessness).

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (v. 5) (Trying so hard to wrap our brain around things that are for God alone to know is an exercise in futility. It is so liberating to let go and let God).

For healing of the flesh and refreshment to the bones: Be not wise in your own eyes (or rely on our own wisdom and understanding as is often the case).

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom…

nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honor. (vv. 13,15,16)

To trust in the Lord with all our hearts; to hold onto His truth no matter what: That is wisdom! And if we have taken hold of this – WE ARE BLESSED! Nothing we desire can compare with it. Yes, because this wisdom will always be higher and stronger than our longings, our deep desires. It will always bring peace. It will always triumph. [We] can do all things through Christ who strengthens [us] (Phil. 4:13).

In the morning of December 27th, I woke up drenched in sticky fluid. The lump in my chest had ruptured and I didn’t even feel it!  I was instantly relieved of the intense pain and within 24 hours, the lump gradually deflated. Hallelujah! 

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Journey with Jesus,

Living in God’s Faithfulness (Part Memoir)

A teacup I bought online from a local seller on IG reminded me of summers and rainy days gone by. The design is called Vintage Flowers and were it not for its price (I paid P560, roughly $12, for 2 sets of teacup and saucer), I wouldn’t have looked at it twice. But later on as I thought about it, the vintage flowers hue pasted on my mind, I was brought back to that little bedroom with the dilapidated balcony in my grandmother’s old house. And I was six years old again. One of my life’s greatest treasures are my childhood memories. They remain as vivid as the colorful butterflies that swarmed the blooming lantanas on summer mornings.

God's_faithfulness

The painted flowers on the antique bed’s iron headboard were like those on the teacup as I remember it. As we sat on that narrow bed, my eldest cousin (I was 5 or 6 and she was forever a grown-up lady) told me stories about the novels she read. I listened mesmerized. It was in that little room which smelled of an attar of freshly-starched laundry, talcum powder, naphthaline, and the adhering scent of decades-old memories that I first fell in love with reading.

Sprawled at the threshold of the crumbling balcony, I would read aloud, the vast, endless sky my ceiling and the trees and the birds my audience. It was an age of discovery and wonder. And security. Summers which saw trees lit up by droves of fireflies on dark nights and dragonfly catching as they came out to hover over the flowers when the sun was up.

That old house had long been torn down, but my beautiful memories of it remain alive. I keep them all in a treasure trove deep in my soul. It’s a testimony of God’s fierce love and care, maybe an imprint of forever in my heart.

If I need to feel Jesus’ love, I remember those days, those days when He answered even before I called (tears). For He healed me each time the flu visited. The steaming hot native chicken soup with ampalaya leaves tasted like heaven as healing and recovery melded with restored appetite (more tears). If the gracious Lord had been so caring when I was little, He was mighty strong when I went to college with big dreams in my heart and little (or sometimes none at all) money in my pocket. So, He blessed me.

If He was faithful then, He is still faithful today, even though life may have taken a new turn. Seasons change as surely as the sun rises in the east, but Jesus remains the same (Heb. 13:8); God says of Himself that He changes not (Mal. 3:6). Our lives change for a reason and purpose according to His will. This I have learned the hard way. No matter. The same God who smiled down at me as I chased butterflies and dragonflies in the heat of summer and waded through rain-flooded fields picking up snails is the same God who walks with me now through the “wilderness”.

I find great comfort from what David had declared. I believe these words took their form from God’s promise in Isaiah 46:3.

But You are He who took Me out of the womb;
You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts.
I was cast upon You from birth.
From My mother’s womb
You have been My God. (Ps. 22:9-10)

From the very first breath we took out of our mother’s womb, God has been present and looking on with everlasting love. If we can’t believe this, how can we believe the miracle of life which is continually happening all around us? For how can the throbbing little heart and tender flesh and bones of a helpless babe grow with only the mother’s breast and love without the nurturing power of the heavenly Father who makes it all possible? Like the expectant seedling breaking through the dark earth to kiss the sun and drink in CO2, life is both a miracle and a gift, the main thread that weaves God’s grand scheme of things. Like what David wrote, we were cast upon Him from birth and we became His constant concern.

But God’s knowledge of us even goes farther than the day we first saw the light. From the foundation of the world, He chose us (see Eph. 1:4). In whatever manner we’ve been called, there has been a transformation in our life, a palpable change. To many of us, the change was so radical, fiery trials and all, that we didn’t know what hit us and we couldn’t help but wonder as though some strange thing happened to us (1 Pet. 4:12).

And we want to know and understand if God is really in all of it. In the early part of my salvation then subsequent trials, I found the answer I was looking for in Romans 8 and my soul found great relief and comfort. The words seemed to shine and leap off the page and spoke powerfully to me that I wrote at the margin of my Bible: God has indeed called me!

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Rom. 8:29-30)

Concerning us whom He has called:

He foreknew

He predestined

He called

He justified

He glorified

There is a master plan set from the foundation of the world and we have a vital part in it, according to His will and by His own grace. He will see it through to the end.

For those of us who are presently weighed down by trials that we groan in our spirits, we can find encouragement from Apostle Peter’s words:

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. (1 Pet. 4:12,13,16)

I believe the suffering that is mentioned above is not from illness or disease of the body, for how can Christ the Healer be glorified in it? But He will be glorified in our healing. Even so, I believe it is through the placidness of our spirit amid the storm that He is also glorified.

Just recently, I silently cried towards heaven and poured out the bitterness of my soul, not to grouse, but more like Hannah who prayed to the Lord and wept in anguish (1 Sam. 1:10). I feel like my physical suffering is like a battering ram that mercilessly beats my already weak body and it is wearying. It is during these desperate times that I feel my courage wane.

But I always find strength in the Word. Always. And lately, I’ve been drawing comfort and courage from this promise of His:

Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you. (Is. 46:4)

I want to emulate Joseph who, from his youth, went through hard and painful trials and yet, remained steadfast and unmovable in his faith in God. And God blessed him immensely in the latter part of his life. I believe this is the pattern that secures a blessed future. May we adopt this steadfastness and placidness of heart and spirit as we live in God’s faithfulness.

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Journey with Jesus,

The Savior’s Heart

The enemy’s goal is to alienate us from God. His work doesn’t end on the day of our salvation but it only intensifies us we embark on our faith journey and cling to our Savior Jesus Christ. His seemingly relentless temptations are both his attempts to draw us away from our new life and as tests on our faith. He capitalizes on the diverse trials we face to paint a picture of God that is cruel and indifferent to our deepest needs. He whispers to our unsuspecting ears that God delights in punishing us. And in the Christian’s weakened state due maybe to intense and constant hardships and sufferings, he or she becomes vulnerable against such lies.

the_Savior's-heart

Through these lies, he affects our thoughts and emotions to sow seeds of doubts, resentment, and bitterness in our hearts. It is the embittered heart that clouds the truth about God and before we know it, the seeds sown begin to germinate. It is like The Parable of the Tares. Although it was used to illustrate the kingdom of heaven, it can also be seen as the field of our hearts. The Lord sowed good seeds into our hearts, but the enemy comes to sow tares. (Tares are weedy plants that grow in wheat fields). If we let him, what will our harvest be?

This is another examination of a heart that has been battered both by suffering and the devil’s lies. Though we wouldn’t dare think of turning away from God (no, not even in our wildest dreams!), the enemy might have succeeded in dousing the fire in our hearts that should have been burning for our Savior. Or maybe, the utter hardship and confusion the trials brought have wounded our hearts and the devil’s whisper “Has God indeed said…?” (Gen. 3:1) has somehow found its way to our grieving heart and driven us to ask in desperation, “Does God really love me?”

Such was my story and I didn’t even realize it was happening. These deep things about faith and our relationship with God, these roads in our spiritual journey that are less travelled – I didn’t give them much pondering. Until a few months ago. The hard trials and bouts of discouragement and the devil’s incessant whispering, taking advantage of the crisis, had brought me to Jesus’ feet each time, begging for help, love, and mercy. But what was becoming of my heart? Every now and then, it wallowed in self-pity and fought discouragement so powerful it had tried to drown me many times. I’m thankful that those episodes don’t last longer beyond an hour.

When my Savior and I found each other twelve years ago and He freed me from all sin, guilt, and shame, the feeling was so exhilarating that for months, I just wept in gratitude and awe before Him. It was a blissful “honeymoon” and I talked about it to whoever cared to listen. Then healing didn’t come. Instead, fiery trials did. The illness and suffering intensified and would last for years. Often, I felt like laundry being tumbled helplessly in the washing machine and there was no one who could pull out the plug to stop it.

Through those years, images of an angry God would float in my mind as I received the cruel blows on my body, blows that scared me and sent me trembling to the core and cowering in a dark corner (figuratively) (crying now). At other times, I saw glimpses of the Lord in my mind just standing in the background, watching me suffer so hard. One time, I even imagined my angel pleading to Him to do something (more tears). Those thoughts would parade in the periphery of my mind, unbidden, born out of desperation due to the intense suffering that battered my body. In those agonizingly difficult times, I couldn’t help but think of the almighty, all-powerful God as a severe, punishing God. It was always a painful thought.

Yes, my relationship with my Lord and King has been rather bittersweet, with peaks and dips like a roller coaster ride (now I can smile).

I can think of two Biblical men who felt the same way I did. David said in Psalm 32: “For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me.” This was my heart’s cry, too.

Through the years, my soul echoed Job’s soul-wrenching discourse. Season after season of sickness and suffering had me owning his words. I understood on a very intimate level every anguished word he spoke:

 But he is unchangeable [of one mind] and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.
14 For he will complete what he appoints for me,
and many such things are in his mind.
15 Therefore I am terrified at his presence;
when I consider, I am in dread of him.
16 God has made my heart faint;
the Almighty has terrified me. (Job 23:13-16, annotation mine)

Job, once a powerful man, in his extreme suffering, became so terrified of God.

But back to the present. There is a need to heal from the wounds caused by our misconceptions of God, otherwise, we will never find true joy and wholeness in Him. And without our full trust in Him, that He is a just and merciful God, we can’t have complete courage to live the life He has purposed for us. Even if the trials have not fully passed, there is a need (now, not later) to re-acquaint ourselves with the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ, the express image of the invisible God.

I would like to see the heart of Jesus between the passages of Isaiah 53. We can know Him within the pages of the Gospel, how He went about proclaiming the Good News and healing all manner of sickness and disease and liberating those possessed by devils. But Isaiah 53 tells in detail what He has really done for mankind. For you and for me. It tells the poignant story behind the cross:

  • He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.
  • He was smitten by God and afflicted.
  • He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.
  • Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace.
  • With His wounds we are healed.
  • The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
  • He makes intercession for the transgressors.

Today, we declare that the devil’s lies and the false image of God he has conjured up in our minds are ground to powder and scattered in the water never to be seen again.

The wrath of God against the sin of mankind was poured out on the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing left for those who will receive Him as their Savior. God has laid our iniquities on Him. He bore them all upon His body — our sin, shame, punishment — to bring us peace. His wounds brought us healing. If He was crushed, afflicted, and punished on our behalf, how could we even think that God would delight in doing those things to us after we’ve received the Savior? There should only be peace and healing! For those are assuredly the things the Lord has won for us. He has finished the work! In fact, griefs and sorrows should not hold us captives anymore — He has carried them all! And even if we fall, He ever intercedes for us.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb. 7:25)

Here’s the heart of our God and Savior laid bare. He loves us so much He gave His all. Let not the enemy steal all that He had died for to give us: life and life abundantly.

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Journey with Jesus,