“How Great Thou Art” {A Little Testimony}

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

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

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

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

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

22nd August ’17

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

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

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

     I feel helpless.

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

     I feel lost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By the second stanza, something began to happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gratitude and Wonder

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

gratitude and wonder

Freesia – a painting from early last year.

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

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

Wonder

The Snow Globe

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

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

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

The Vending Machine

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

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

The Piano Duet

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

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

Gratitude

The Buyers

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

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

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

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

The Paintings

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

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

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A Life of Gratefulness

The day I felt so ill that I forced myself to vomit to be able to breathe and relieve me of dizziness, gratefulness triumphed once again. The episode was scary just like the others, but this one made me panic more. And even though by dinnertime, the worst had passed, still, I was so weak to join the family for dinner at our new-to-us dining table (which has become our favorite spot for gathering and celebrating everyday life). When dinner was over, I stirred in bed, got up and requested Felix to buy ice cream and gathered the family again for dessert.

gratefulness

Every opportunity I get, I want to make the moments special and meaningful. While we licked three flavors of ice cream in sugar cones, I told the family we were going to take turns in sharing what we were thankful to the Lord for that day. We made three rounds, three things each of what we wanted to thank the Lord Jesus for, before I declared we were done. In all of my three things, I felt His powerful presence. He was so near I could feel Him touching me I had goosebumps.

I have long learned that gratefulness does that: it draws us so very near to God and draws Him near to us. To thank the Lord from the bottom of our heart is to honor Him. And when he is honored in our lives, when He is exalted, He draws near, makes His presence felt, and He lingers. We feel we are so very loved and cherished.

There are times that I experience surges of love and gratitude towards Him that I want to squeeze Him really tight in a hug, like a child hugging her daddy in pure delight. One good thing that sickness and suffering has brought to my life is that the starting point of my gratitude has gone very low. Meaning, the trigger for happiness and gratitude is shallow. I don’t take things for granted. I can easily see the difference between suffering and relief (deliverance). And in that relief, in the healing moments, in the respites, my heart swells in gratitude. I am easily gladdened even by the smallest things that I am able to do. I take joy in them. Most people go places, celebrate with friends, pursue hobbies, do meaningful activities, etc. I can’t do most of those, I can’t go out, but with the little things that I can do – I am ever so grateful to the Lord.

The starting point of my gratefulness is low and the heights it reaches are extraordinarily high. Even that I consider a wonderful blessing. Only by His grace.

I have learned to fight discouragements, disappointments, and even hopelessness, by choosing to hold gratitude near my heart and be active and intentional in my thanksgiving.

When we are truly grateful to the Lord, without resentments and grudges and unending complaints – life certainly becomes brighter and lighter. Joy easily finds its way to our hearts and we are lifted up.

But even as I say these things, the harshness of life could still squeeze itself into one’s peace. It still wants its presence known and felt. Indeed, sometimes life could be like an arid, hostile wilderness. Sometimes the journey could feel so arduous, long, and almost unbearable. Especially in sickness and suffering with sorrow. It cannot be that sorrow is absent.

I remember the months when suffering made me turn to Job to find solace and strength. When in intense, constant suffering, God seemed to be nowhere, like He was covered in a thick fog. It felt like you were groping in the dark, confused, afraid, unsure. Job’s laments resonated with me:

Behold, I go forward, but he is not there;
and backward, but I cannot perceive him:
on the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him:
he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: (Job 23:8-9)

Life isn’t fair sometimes and it feels like it’s all an uphill climb. These lyrics of Sandi Patty’s song, sounding like it was taken from Job’s words themselves, exactly express that. This song captured my soul for a time and I clung to it.

I feel You to the left and right

So close and yet just out of sight

I search where promises are kept.

I know You’re real

And somehow still

You’re watching over me

And You will always be until heaven

Brings me home to You

I’ll remember You will always be here

In my heart.

I ache inside but journey on

What is this desperate dream I chase

The distance cruel but yearning grows…

Yes, the journey seems like it sometimes – cruel and winding. But we’ve been placed here. For a reason. Job added,

But he knoweth the way that I take:
when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold. (Job 23:10)

And ended with —

Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him: but I will maintain mine own ways before him. (Job 13:15)

I had echoed Job’s words and by doing so, I had been strengthened and my faith fortified.

We are here, we are walking this journey. It is hard most of the time, but the Lord Jesus Christ promised to be with us always, even to the end. And He gives us glimpses of His glory when we have learned how to look.

For days Tim was busy preparing for a project (he always has these DIYs). I heard snippets of the things he was looking for and collecting while he breezed in and out of my room. I wasn’t really paying attention (because that’s what adults usually do, I guess). But on the day that he had set up his project, a bird-trapping contraption, I accidentally opened the CCTV monitor. A voice whispered to me to look and consider.

So, I watched Tim as he checked out if birds had been eating his bait and I actually smiled. The rope went all the way from our garage to beyond the garden. “So I could not be seen while I watch them,” he said. I gathered up all the blessings this scene brought:

I have a healthy, active son.

He plays exuberantly as all other children of his age do.

He believes in wonders.

He is inventive.

He is a joy to me.

That day, I sensed the Lord Jesus’ delight and once again, I was awash with gratitude and joy.

We need not travel beyond the seas to see the wonders of God. He brings beauty and wonder right where we are. We only have to lower down the standard of what brings us joy and triggers our gratitude.

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God’s Comfort and Strength

A poem for the sorrowing soul.

 

God’s Comfort and Strength

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Joy is great

But sorrow pushes deeper

Into God’s bosom

A gateway to grace.

 

Sorrow is a shadow

That walks with one

And urges on toward

The Lord’s waiting arms.

 

Sorrow works repentance

Humbling down and tears

And plunging oneself

At Jesus’ feet.

 

My deepest need

For comfort and strength

Stokes the fire within

Makes love burn afresh.

 

Sorrow colors

My praise and worship

Drives me to touch

All heaven’s gates.

 

I’m like a bird

That hovers over

Sorrow’s sea

Not wanting to land

For I am weak, you see.

 

But God whispers

“My strength

Is made perfect

In your weakness

So, lean closer

And trust deeper

I am your rest.”

 

Is it even possible

To just fly away

Under the shadow

Of God’s wings

Where I hide myself

And pain can never reach?

 

I cry out

For the Savior’s light

For in Him darkness

Cannot ever abide.

 

And so He makes me

Afloat in His mercy

And in the power

Of His great love.

 

God’s love never fails

Never wanes, never leaves

Never dries up

Like a river it flows

Untiring, unending

Its healing power

Alive, ever moving

Both now and forever.

 
(On the occasion of my BFF’s passing).
 
 

 

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A Mary Heart

I’m talking about Mary of Bethany, of course, the sister of the ever-efficient homemaker Martha, friends of the Lord Jesus. Mary, the sitter at Jesus’ feet and the enrapt listener. Lately, my soul has been crying out to go sit where Mary sat, that place where you’re so close to the Savior you could touch His toes. The place where you won’t miss a single word He speaks. My soul desires to occupy that space more often and longer. An intentional running to the well to drink of Him, for my mind has been pulled in many directions lately and even my heart has been following suit, and I am not used to it.

I apologize that I haven't been giving my best in painting the blog themes lately. Sometimes I'm in a hurry and this is the result :( . But I posted a few of my finished painting projects below. I hope you like them.

I apologize that I haven’t been giving my best in painting the blog themes lately. Sometimes I’m in a hurry and this is the result :( . But I posted a few of my finished painting projects below. I hope you like them.

I remember the years when all I could do was sit quietly in my high-back swivel chair and listen to praise music and pray, a pure communion with God without distractions. This was my rest. But things have changed. That chair has long been gone and I have moved forward from being sedentary surrounded by quiet to doing things that I am inspired to do. These changes, though welcome, have a price to pay. My rest, true rest in the Lord, is compromised.

Two nights ago during prayer, I asked the Lord what it means by sitting at His feet, just what Mary had done, when He’s not actually in my living room. But seriously, I try to do that through prayer, Bible and devotional reading, writing on my prayer and gratitude journals, and listening to praise. Although I can’t vocalize, I do my best to worship just by listening to praise songs. I believe these all make us sit, be still and glued to that spot at Jesus’ feet. But even if we are there and not in the kitchen where the busy Martha is, we could still lose the moment if our hearts and minds are not there with us. If they are distracted by the myriad things we should be helping Martha with. Or if there is no Martha in our life and we must do all the worrying and bustling.

I got my answer during one of those necessary bodily rests, eyes tightly closed while painfully waiting out for relief: sitting at Jesus’ feet is not only doing those things – prayer, Bible reading, praise, etc. – but also to listen to His voice. To let our hearts and minds keep still and listen, listen closely. Then behold His face, behold His beauty and majesty, in our spirit. That can easily be attained during worship when one is singing with one’s all. But for the weak like me who doesn’t have enough strength to belt out a song, we need to exert more effort. And by that I mean, to keep still and focus and not be distracted by anything, especially by wandering thoughts.

And in our keeping still and thinking on the Lord and talking with Him, whispering our praises, thanksgiving, and prayers, we must delight in Him. That’s how we behold Him whom we cannot see: we let our spirit delight in Him so that we are lifted up and praises pour out spontaneously from our hearts and lips. This communing with God should not stay at the periphery of our heart and spirit, but it should touch our very core. It should ignite our love.

For it is not the mere acts of reading the Bible, praying, praising, but our hearts wholly given to Him. Our whole being loving God. Enamored with Him, like a bride with her bridegroom. It is our love that is the measure of our life given to Him, not merely the things we do.  

Ownership by God or sonship/daughtership is not proven alone by our actions, but the heart that does them, these things a product of a heart wholly given to Him. For we can go through the motions but without a love that burns for Him. It is this active love that makes us one with our Savior and Lord. For —

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels…

Though I have the gift ofprophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…

And though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains…

But have not love…

I am nothing. 

(From 1 Cor. 13)

I am not a Mary by nature. I am wired like Martha – efficient, perfectionist, OC. But God changed all that when I fell ill and became dependent on His mercy, every moment of every day. In my deep need, I learned to run to Him and slump my sick and weak body at His feet and wait for His mercy. I run to Him for bodily relief, for that deep peace in the mind and soul, for strength, for encouragement, for comfort, for love. This world and the people in it are bound to hurt us, bring us down, make us cry, disappoint and discourage us. The Lord Jesus Christ – He is my sanctuary, my safe haven from all these. And so I run to Him.

I have developed a Mary heart as far as my relationship with the Lord Jesus is concerned, but still keep a Martha disposition when it comes to homemaking.

Ailing and weak as I am, the threads of my moments and days are woven by prayer, by clinging to Him in prayer, even with those whispered, urgent ones that are interspersed within those hard times of suffering. I am able to gather together a day because every minute of it is sewn one after the other by the incremental mercies of God. From mercy to mercy. From strength to strength. From day to day.

So, I want to fight for that quiet time at Jesus’ feet no matter how much my thoughts and affections are pulled in the opposite direction. I want to to be assured that I am kept in the love of God and I can only know that when I abide in Him and His words abide in me. To do that one thing that’s really needed, and choose that good part, which will not be taken away from me.

And Jesus[ answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

I am so blessed to have found this beautiful song about this very theme, “I Miss My Time With You”. I pray it will bless you, too.

My latest completed painting projects:

SIMPLICITY 2

SIMPLICITY 2 on 9″ x 12″

 

PLUMERIA AND A PIECE OF BLUE on 12" x 16"

PLUMERIA AND A PIECE OF BLUE on 12″ x 16″

 

RADIANCE on 12" x 16"

RADIANCE on 12″ x 16″

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

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The Inward Life

I pull my blankets to my neck to settle in bed after a tiring day (well, my days are always taxing on my body whether I work or rest, because of my illness). It is during these moments of quiet, when the kids have gone to bed and Felix is in the other room praising, that my mind is wont to reflect on the day’s events, not so much on the activities, but more on how I have handled every situation and how I have spent every moment.

Have I been a light to my family? Have I set a good example to an erring child? Have I ministered grace with my words? Have I been patient, gentle, kind? Have I meditated enough on the Lord through the hours? Have I shown fruitfulness of the Holy Spirit? And then there is the inevitable recalling of the day’s blunders and failures. Sometimes it seems that the days are just full of them and I have this practice of taking all the burden and the blame. And feeling guilty when I had enjoyed minding material things, like home decor (planning, browsing, purchasing), etc.

My painting is buried under the huge petals of the lilies, but... you get the message :) .

My painting is buried under the huge petals of the lilies, but… you get the message :) .

But as I pull the blankets over me to rest under their warmth, a voice within me speaks, “Aren’t you being too hard on yourself?” Then it makes me recall all my daily hardships – the sufferings, the inabilities, the sadness and desolation of not being able to go out. It makes me think of my difficult situation, of how hard and lamentable it truly is that sometimes I wail before Felix, the tears hot, fat, and eager to fall. But I have learned to ease away all of my suffering from my heart and mind and let gratitude reign there instead.

Worship. Gratitude. Contrite heart. These are the things that I want to color my moments and days with.

But the voice within me tells me to see things in the right perspective and receive, enjoy, and live with God’s gifts and abundant blessings without guilt or remorse or sadness.

I answer back in my mind that I never wanted to pamper myself with worldly things, to let them take the place of bodily healing, relief, and comfort. To take the place of joy in being able to walk, do the things I want to do. Or the joy of travel and whatever things I can’t do now but longing to do.

And the inner voice replies, “They are never meant to replace them, for they can’t. But you can take them with thanksgiving and praise and turn them into something that will bring God glory. Yes, whether you’re decorating your home and making your surroundings beautiful for you to enjoy and feel happy with, or whatever you do, do it with Him and rejoice together with Him. For everything that you receive comes from His giving hand.

“Thank Him for every single thing received and share with Him your joy, your happiness. He is the heart of your every endeavor, every task, every little thing that matters to you. He is the heart of your praise and worship. Put Him into everything you put your heart into.

“Offer to Him the work of Your hand, whether a needlework, a painting, an essay, a poem, a song, a letter, words on the pages of a journal, a Bible study with someone, fresh flowers arranged in a vase, bread baked to golden perfection, lighted candle whose scent and golden warmth waft gently around the room. Whether you’re harvesting fruits and planning to send a basket to a dear friend, or marvelling at the vibrant color of a splash of paint on a canvas, or being touched by the story of the book you’re reading, or admiring the deep colors of the stones of a vintage brooch and thinking how it would make your mother happy receiving it – offer it all to Him. That pure joy in your heart, He was the One who gave it. Don’t sully it with endless analyses and guilty thoughts and feelings. Joy with Him.

“It is the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy.” (See 1 Tim. 6:16-17)

He gives richly all things for us to enjoy. Then we must receive them with thanksgiving and praise. And share and make others happy, too.

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

I just realized it now that my heart and soul have slowly adapted to their environment. The environment of only our home. In the recent past, I had endlessly daydreamed, longed, and ached for the outdoors: for travel, for the beach, the woods, the plains, the farm, the earth beneath and the vast sky above without obstruction, but often, I had been left hungering more and longing deeper, like the burning pain of an empty stomach. Since it’s painful to dwell on them, my heart and soul have learned to not even venture toward that place of hunger and longing. To not think about those things and places that are so very afar of, so far from my reach. 

Not that I have given up on them, but that I have given up dwelling on them and without me realizing it, I have slowly gravitated inwardly, to our home which is the only world I know now. And if the Lord is speaking to my heart to make my little world beautiful and a source of peace and quiet, fulfilment and happiness, then I will be glad to do it for the praise and glory of His name.

I believe that gardening, home decorating, and other such satisfying undertaking, can be a food for the soul and can very well be a channel for healing.

To have something to look forward to each morning, to be inspired to rise up and praise God for the gifts we are sure to find and enjoy, is far, far better than to anticipate the breaking of dawn with trepidation. For there had been months years ago when sickness didn’t allow inspiration to touch my heart, when all I could do was stare at the wallpaper and count the flowers printed there or gaze out the window and watch the duplex being built, one rivet at a time.

But now, the Lord is filling me with vibrant inspiration. I am filled with eagerness to face each new day. All these – the heart for beauty, the inspiration, the giddy anticipation, and the joy they bring – they are gifts from the ever-giving God.

At the end of the day, when inspiration begins to ebb, I commune with God through prayers, His Word, within the pages of my prayer journal, and through praise music. I cry for His majesty that shines on me and for all the frustrations and all the unrealized dreams. I cry for the ugly, the mistakes, and the beauty that peeks through amazing grace. I cry for this grace that never wanes.

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Keeping a Worshipful Spirit

I fret when things other than the Lord Jesus Christ occupy my thoughts and time most of the day. I feel that it is a great shortcoming and failure on my part, and in my list of “major offences” against God, those two are lined with “sin”. Maybe unlike most Christians, I am very fearful of God. I still haven’t learned to not connect my sickness and suffering with God’s punishment or chastisement. Often, I still think that my suffering intensifies because I might have offended God in some way (although sometimes I can’t really think of any, unless God is uber-sensitive like that). I know that you think otherwise. I, too, cannot totally believe that God is hovering over me, just waiting for me to slip and then – boom! The punishment comes. I cannot really believe He works that way, yet, it surely feels that way when the sting of suffering grips me.

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So, I am fearful of Him, so much so that I cower in my spirit and when I haven’t behaved perfectly, I actually beg Him to not punish me. But I do not want to go back to those beggarly feelings or living like an adopted-and-unloved child, because I’d been there and it just isn’t true.

Instead, I respond to this fretting and fearfulness (or in other words – conviction) by listening well to the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ and praying more agonizingly. And most of all, I strain to find ways to please Him and worship Him whatever I do during the course of the day.

Well, to be honest, I fret because there are bad habits I have not yet completely forsaken. Bad habits and weaknesses that trump my resolve to “behave myself wisely in a perfect way, to walk within my house with a perfect heart” as David had declared. There are times I still fall prey to them.

opening my cellphone to check  messages and IG (a quick browse) first thing in the morning

my mind dwelling on vain thoughts while waiting for sleep to come at night and back to them in my waking moment

feasting my eyes on things of this world (especially online), even as simple as a pretty teacup

planning, devising (like in home decorating), and round and round it goes

planning, imagining projects for watercolor painting

planning, arranging, scheduling menus and recipes and baking actvities

I may live a sedentary life and most of it in bed, but my mind is always active and busy 😀

With the exception of the first two, the activities I listed above are not bad. But when they worm themselves into my mind more than necessary, and especially during worship service (via live streaming on my laptop), that is bad. They then become distractions, a word I’m becoming to hate more and more everyday.

And the worst thing? When they consume my thoughts, affections, and time. Suddenly at the end of the day, I realize I have wasted my time with vain things, worldly things that don’t really matter to the Lord and eternity. Then, I fret. I get sad and soul-heavy.

I guess I am more prone to such habits or “thought life” because of my situation. I don’t go out (because I can’t). There are very limited activities I can do beside reading, watching, looking, painting, writing, praying, AND thinking. The painting, writing, and reading I cannot do any time I want. I need to wait for strength and comfortable breathing to be able to do them. In the meantime, I browse online. Browsing and looking are my easiest ways to pass the time. But when I am unable to do even those, I keep still and close my eyes. Then, things play in my mind, some are spiritual, some are not.

I don’t want to live this way everyday. I want to be always in the presence of the Lord, yes, even when I am doing something that is not spiritual. I believe this is possible when I don’t let my worldly activities and thoughts and plans consume me. Consume is the key word. When we let things other than God consume us, then they become sin. This is the thing that Apostle Paul mentioned in Colossians 3:5:

Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5)

Inordinate affection. Inordinate is defined as “1. disorderly, unregulated 2. exceeding reasonable limits: immoderate”*. We should not develop inordinate affection to worldly things. Temperance or self-control is the operative word. It’s not as if I shop and shop online with no care about the price or their necessity. No, not at all. But, for instance, I like collecting vintage or used teacups and I buy them from local IG sellers. Yes, I like looking at them, collecting them, and using them for tea, but I don’t really buy the expensive ones. I only buy the cheap ones. Yet, I feel guilty and fret sometimes because I delight in them and I think about them and they make me happy.

I don’t want to border on covetousness, no matter how simple the things I want to have and enjoy. I always endeavor to live simply, although my heart longs for beauty. 

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: 29 for our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:28-29)

God should be the One filling our hearts and minds and not the things of this world. The prayer I whisper every time I find myself being pulled away by my worldly desires is this: “Lord Jesus, fill my heart and mind and days with Yourself that I would be so full of You!” There is a need for intentional and diligent seeking of Him. If we want to be nearer to God, then let’s intentionally draw near to God, for when we do so, He draws near to us. So, I tell myself, “Just do it. Make ways to do it.”

What my soul desires is to worship Him until I should have touched the throne of grace and He should have touched me that I am transformed. And healed. For that to be always my goal.

In my life, it’s my weaknesses that vie for my deep and constant devotion to God, those weaknesses that bring us fleeting thrills. Indeed, there are endless distractions that pull us away from a connected worship of God. In the course of the day, we go through many things, both the needed and the desired, the essential and the exciting, but they should not consume us, they should not occupy more territory in our minds than what we give for the Lord – thinking, meditating, worshiping, and delighting in Him.

The principle behind this is what the Apostle Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 7: 29-31:

But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. (1 Cor. 7:29-31)

Those who buy as though they did not possess. Those who enjoy the things of this world, however simple and innocent, as if they did not enjoy them. It’s like that, right?

Because we are all “looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

*From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

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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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Home 2

Home is where I’ve been and where I am at these many years. To be always home and unable to go anywhere else is not so bad, if you learn to accept the things that you don’t have the power to change. The secret is to learn to settle down and still be able to see the good things God is doing. Even in your small, limited world. Even in a few thousands square foot of ground.

home 2

When you’re unable to go anywhere else, you’ll be glad there is home. There is always home. The prodigal son learned this the painful way. And yet, home is where he found himself again.

We recently painted the outside walls with the faintest beige, almost an eggshell white when the sun shines on it, and the ironworks with warm sepia (well, that’s what I want to call it because it’s one of my favorite colors in my watercolor palette). When Felix brought home a color chart from the paint manufacturer, all three of us (me and the two kids) got so excited we each chose a color for our own bedrooms. Tim chose baby blue for his, telling us that the cream paint is already stained and that he wanted blue so much anyway and begged, “Please, please, please!” while jumping up and down with excitement. The daddy was silent for a while for he only planned to have the outside walls painted.

But then I ohhed and ahhed at the delicate Wisteria color, almost ethereal in my eyes, and I asked the husband, “Wouldn’t that be lovely for our room?” (Hannah wasn’t about to be left behind. She chose a very faint mint it almost looks like mist).

My poor husband was overpowered and ended up hiring four painters and bringing home gallons upon gallons of paint the colors of cotton candy (for the inside walls, that is, living, dining, and up to the family room, were painted light peach).

For a few weeks now, I stare at the blank Wisteria walls. The frames had not been re-hung for I gave instructions that the holes where thick nails had been bored be covered without any trace. They are now a blank canvas waiting to be adorned. I dream to paint wisteria on 12″ x 16″ watercolor paper, soon I hope, when I’m stronger (and feeling more confident).

In the late afternoons, when the sun is on the other side of the house and not peeking through the windows, the wisteria walls turn into a grey-lavenderish hue, like a smoke passing through.

I look, I observe, I hang my head at a certain angle, trying to capture something from the silence or the space that is all around me. My soul is trying to whisper, “God, where are You in all this? Is it only these walls and nothing else or am I too sentimental to think that You are trying to speak to me through these blank, unadorned walls, through these colors that look like vapor to my eyes? Is there something more, beyond what my eyes can see?”

When the only place you know and revolve around is home, bound by walls and mouldings and French windows and doors, you try to pull the Lord by the arm and invite Him in. Lord Jesus, please, come, sit awhile with me.

I admit I strain to make our home beautiful because it is the only place I can be. But I don’t want it to be only about the material things, the things that my eyes and heart can enjoy. I want it to be transformed into something that could reach and touch my soul. I want it to be a haven for my spirit and weak, ailing body. I want it to be a place for healing.

And that’s why I want to see God in all of it.

I had known the pain and desolation of not being able to see Him everywhere I looked, like He wanted to hide Himself from my vision and avoid the path where I had hoped to catch Him. Job had known this, this pain and hopelessness, ages before I had.

“Look, I go forward, but He is not there,
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him;
When He works on the left hand, I cannot behold Him;
When He turns to the right hand, I cannot see Him. (Job 23:8-9)

I don’t want to go back to that place. It’s a dismal, scary place to be.

What a big difference seeing Him in all things can do!

As summer comes bursting forth with its blustery heat and warm late-afternoon breezes, I sit in our patio and relish everything our garden offers. At this time of the year, the narra tree boasts of a thick canopy of green leaves and each year, I notice it ever expanding. One branch extends toward the patio roof, the tight  weaving of green kissing it and I can see it peeking through the fiber glass.

God is growing every living thing, adorning the deciduous tree with new coat and crown of leaves when its time comes. He’s ever sustaining, nurturing, giving increase. Even without our striving.

For the first time this year, the mango tree is bearing fruit. One branch is stooping low for heaviness of fruit and I wonder, if one is heavy with fruit, the posture is always bowed down low. I want to be like our mango tree.

It’s a day away from Resurrection Sunday as I write this. Our family did not plan to go anywhere during Lent since I couldn’t go with them anyway and the kids are going back to school afterwards (their school year is patterned to that of the USA). White sand beaches and pine trees-cooled lodges are a distant dream, for it would be too painful dwelling on them.

Felix put a big Intex pool in the garden. He bought it before the malls closed up for the Holy Week. Tim couldn’t contain his excitement. A few hours before midnight on Wednesday, when the kids had gone to bed, he went out and painstakingly set it up, the instruction manual spread out before him. Around 1 in the morning, water was already filling it up. Still, he got up early, when the sun had not yet chased away the indigo-tinted morning. He wanted that the pool was full before Tim saw it. Not an easy task since the pool is quite big, a rectangle of blue sitting audaciously on a swath of green.

Home. Home is where the love of the Father resides. Never waning, never leaving, never failing.

“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.” (Luke 15:31)

Tim babbles endlessly in the pool for happiness. He’s so excited and happy he won’t stop talking while splashing and swimming. I don’t stop him. I think that if I closed my eyes, it would be the same sound I would hear if we were in the beach or a lodge secluded by evergreens. And all these, every single morsel of it, I gather them like the Israelites of old gathered manna. This here is food for my hungering soul.

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What Makes Life Beautiful?

Because of social media, people can now show off their lives for all the world to see and admire. But a life that is seen through the screen is just a small facet of the whole. The life lived behind it, hidden from the world’s hungry eyes, is what essentially matters. If we live our moments just so we can brag them to the world is not really living. The thing that I’m learning now is to live for my sake and the ones I love, and not for the sake of the world. That is not selfish at all if you will allow me to elucidate. Because of the pull of social media, we have learned to make little decisions that are based not on our own needs and their importance in our lives, but because we think that they will impress the world. 

beautiful life

We can easily see that when, instead of letting the hungry husband dive into the sumptuous dinner before us, for example, he’ll still have to wait because we are going to take pictures first (for IG perhaps!) before the nice arrangement is messed up. Instead of sitting quietly down to dinner, thank the Lord for the good food and ask Him to bless it, then share it with the ones we love gathered around, our thoughts and actions are centered on sharing it first to the world. We make these little decisions for the sake of the world and not for us.

Now, if we fail to show our moments to the world before they come to pass, we feel like there’s something lacking in our lives. But, this shouldn’t be the case. Our lives should be lived to satisfy us and not the world through its “likes and comments”.

Is life beautiful because a photo shared is scooping up “likes” by the hundreds or even thousands? Is that the gauge?

I’m learning, dear readers, I’m learning!

What makes life beautiful? Is it what people see on the outside? Or is it essentially the life on the inside, the one that cannot be seen? The one that is sturdily connected to its Creator and Sustainer and Savior? The one that is whole and full and complete enough in its God it doesn’t need glorying in “likes”? The one that doesn’t need to show off because it is happy and contented in itself?

I am learning hard, yes, on how to live this one life in contentment in God and not in the world. Sometimes, we think that striving to make our lives beautiful for others to admire and emulate is the way to happiness, but I believe that we need to create first a place in our inmost being that is authentically contented, happy, and grateful before it can even be called beautiful. Our lives should deeply satisfy us first before it can attempt to satisfy others. They should be loved, cherished, and made happy first before they can even be useful to others.

I used to think that adorning and surrounding my life with beautiful things – scented candles, pretty English teacups, flowers arranged in a crystal vase, lovely and comfortable bedroom with walls and covers in perfect harmony (you get the picture) – will somehow cover the want in other areas, such as the lack of health and the absence of travel because of it. These things could temporarily bring comfort and joy and even peace, but in no way can they reach that place in the heart and soul where true and enduring happiness and contentment reside, if in the very first place they aren’t there. The true state of the heart, mind, and soul will determine whether the life that they support is beautiful or wanting.

I have to ask this because it is my life right now: Is there beauty at all in suffering? All kinds of suffering for that matter? I believe there is if it brings us to a closer, more intimate walk with our Savior. If it drives us to pursue holiness that is not superficial. Suffering, if seen in the right perspective, is sanctifying. If our suffering ends in our sanctification, then suffering has served its purpose. Now, don’t go gawking at that word: holiness. The truth is, we are called to it. We are called to be saints (Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2). We are called to pursue holiness.

Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)

A holy life is one that worships God in spirit and in truth, both in the most private place of our lives and in the congregation with other believers.

Shouldn’t a life be established in peace and joy and confidence first in the Lord Jesus Christ before it could even be called beautiful? Shouldn’t a beautiful life begin with a happy and satisfied heart in God first and a spirit that praises and thanks God with its all before it can even be seen and admired by others?

For what is a life if it wallows in its inability to be happy and content in its God who makes all things possible for it? What is a life if it endlessly whines for the lack and cannot see the blessings all around it and rejoice in them and thank God for every single one? What is a life if it cannot see the good?

First, a life must see God, both in the tangible and intangible. Both in the fruit (that we see) and in faith. In the gifts and rewards and in hopes and dreams. A life that sees God in suffering and in victory. In woe and in awe. In fear and in peace. In joy and sadness. A beautiful life is able to balance these and still flourish. And rejoices in the Lord.

A life is beautiful from the inside out when it is drenched in love on both sides: the Lord Jesus’ unfailing, faithful love and our steadfast, growing one. I believe the secret is being truly loving from the depths of our souls. Such love should be reflected in our relationships.

What makes a life beautiful even with all its trials and struggles and suffering? It is that radiance that’s a reflection of God’s glory. It is never easy, I know. For often our lives reflect the suffering or the want. But we need to ask this: Is it about us? Isn’t it about Him working in and through us for His joy, renown, honor and glory? For His kingdom? And yet, it’s also about us as far as He is concerned: the ones He’s known and loved and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world (see Eph. 1:4), the blessed recipients of His mercy and grace. For didn’t He give His life to give us ours?

And the life that He gave – it is beautiful.

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