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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Draw Near

The poem I wrote (below) on Friday last pretty much sums up the theme of my life right now. Though there are still deep desires and longings in my heart that make my soul sad and burdened, I am falling into the practice of drawing ever nearer to God through each day, in worship, in song, in prayer, in writing, through the Word, and in my thoughts. If the Bible says that when we draw near to God, He draws near to us (see James 4:8), then it is a promise that I would like to claim. We just need to be intentional and diligent about it. Whether we are drawn in our fervent love and devotion to Him or in our desperation, we do it and that is a good thing. But when it comes down to it, it is really the Lord Jesus’ love stirring us to draw near.

…Then I will cause [her] to draw near,
And [she] shall approach Me… (From Jer. 30:21)

The latter part of the poem speaks about my testimony of what happened two Sundays ago during worship service.

draw near

Draw Near



If we walk in the light
Where God abides
We have fellowship with Him
And the blood of Christ
Cleanses us from all sin...

Then why don't we draw near
As often as Love leans in?

If by His life
We receive our own
A new heart, new creation
If in Him
We are made righteous
Sanctified, forgiven...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love calls?

If we come to Him
He promises rest
From all our labors and heavy weights
His yoke will be easy 
And His burden light...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love invites?

If we run to the well
He meets us there
He makes us to drink
His living water
We'll never again thirst 
In this life
And even forever...

Then why don't we draw near
As often as Love whispers?

If in His throne of grace
We'll find mercy
In time of great need
If from His hand 
All blessings flow
Abundant, unhindered...
Then why don't we draw near
As often as Love stirs?

If at His feet
We can cast all sorrows and cares
And know that He knows
Every grief, every burden
Upon our shoulders
And hears all our prayers...

Then why don't we draw near
As often as Love remembers?

If at the cross
Salvation flows
Healing is ours 
Through the stripes
That He bore...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love pulls?

If in our praises
He comes down
And sits upon the throne
Of our hearts' hymns and songs
Rejoices over us
Turns our mourning into dance...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love rings out?

If in His presence
There is fullness of joy
Sorrows are soothed
As in the Lord we rejoice
Hurts are forgotten
As His face we behold...

Then why don't we draw close
As often as Love unfolds?

In just one song
Drawn from the soul
My heart opened wide
And my spirit soared
Fear had no place
In His glorious praise
There is only grace 
All-abounding grace!

I raised my hands
Wanting to be lifted up
To that place where He dwells
Where there is only light.

Love, overwhelming love
Gripped me like a whirlwind
All doubts and struggles
Flew away and fled
His presence is power
There is like no other.

Eyes tightly closed
I found myself under
The cross of Christ
And I wondered
Beheld His brokenness
Speaking to me 
"Child, because of this, 
You are healed."

Blood poured out 
Upon my upturned face
As I received 
Every drop
Of this precious blood
By which I am saved.

Tears trickled down
As a keening cry broke out
From the depths of my soul 
For I knew not
What to say or pray for
But the Spirit of God
Interceded on my behalf.

Draw near to God
As often as Love resounds.

~ Rina R. Peru

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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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Redeeming the Time

In Ephesians 5:15-17, the apostle Paul tells us to redeem the time:

See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

My watercolor painting of Fall Foliage (reference photo from Instagram). I hope you like it.

We were given the reason why we must redeem the time – the days are evil – and how we go about it: walk circumspectly and wisely and understanding the will of God. When we think of “redeeming the time”, we usually think of the bigger picture: our service to God. Well, for me anyway. That is, until something happened at home that brought me to this.

What exactly is “redeem”? I like what Google gave when I searched for its definition.

redeem: compensate for the faults or bad aspects of (something); do something that compensates for poor past performance or behavior.

As I’ve mentioned above, up to this time, I saw “redeeming the time” as more of the task of a Christ laborer, especially those who preach the Gospel and win souls everywhere. To not waste time in spreading the Gospel of salvation as it is the only way to fight these evil days, pushing back the darkness and its works. But when we see it only this way, we tend to think that we, as housewives and stay-at-home moms or full-time career or business people, are not really called to this.

But I received an epiphany today that practicing “redeeming the time” in our marriages, families, and homes is a beautiful moment-by-moment, day-to-day undertaking. It is living a life that is full of grace.

I, with my ailing self, derive strength from the love, peace, and joy that our home and family bring, but most of all, of course, from my faith in God. Each day, however hard it is for me physically, I am renewed, strengthened, and inspired to pursue and live life to the Christ-fullest. That desire alone keeps me awake at night pondering and keeps me on my toes throughout the day. I have that deep desire to truly live out the Lord Jesus’ words and not only a lip service or going through the motions. It is my way of loving Him wholly and honoring Him in my life. A continuous, daily worship.

At the bottom of all this is my belief that being pleasing and right with God is what gives me life and continuance.

…the joy of the Lord is [my] strength. ( Part of Neh. 8:10)

But my heart’s desires and my attempts at living them are affected by my circumstances and the people I do life with. Mistakes, blunders, failures are bound to happen. The aim to walk the higher ground and foster a better relationship with someone for instance, could shatter in a moment’s weakness. Disagreements arise, even a word war or silent war or cold war! In a moment’s time, we could say the wrong word, words that stir up anger or hurt. But this is the good part: we need not stay there! After the words are spoken, the tears are shed, or maybe the door has been shut, or the back has been turned – it is not really the end. It must not be the end.

That is the beauty of grace. We can partake of it as often and as much as we want to. That is the inconsumable grace of Lamentations 3: 22-23:

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

We are given new mercies every morning. Every morning we are renewed, reinstated, and reaffirmed. And if our gracious and merciful Father does it to us every morning, can’t we do the same to each other? Can’t we renew, reinstate, and reaffirm one another in each other’s love, joy, and peace?

Can’t we redeem what we have foolishly squandered?

Are we better at squandering or redeeming?

Do we squander the new day and the new mercies given to us because we are hard-hearted like that? Do we squander them by giving in to our unprofitable emotions: anger, resentment, bitterness, coldness?

No. We redeem each and every moment and every day with new mercies as the Lord supplies us! We redeem the ugliness, the mistakes, the failures with fresh grace.

… Freely [we] have received, freely give. (Part of Mat. 10:8)

We redeem the squandered moments with fresh dose of forgiveness and love and we gather again peace and joy unto our bosom and rejoice together in the Lord. A life of grace is where we thrive, like fish to water, plants to rich soil.

To redeem is to gather again and not to scatter.

Because we walk after the Holy Spirit and live by its fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – tarrying in that place outside of its borders will not be good for us and our health. It’s like fish out of water.

I have a fragile health and I can’t afford to squander my days. I don’t have the luxury of endless days. On earth, at least. That is true for all of us. A stanza of the song You Are My World is a great reminder:

And all my days are gifts from You
I pray I’d use them as You want me to
Use them for You.

Our beloved pastor advises to live each day as if it were the day the Lord Jesus comes. Watching. Praying. Loving. Giving grace and mercy. Rejoicing. Living in peace and joy. Wasting nothing.

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Journey with Jesus,

Spiritual Hunger

Lately when I presented myself before the Lord in worship and sang my one song (or two) before breathing became short, my soul had asked painfully. As I tried to touch heaven and my Savior King’s heart, this was what went on in the depths of my soul:

Here I sit in this room, singing praises to You, desiring to worship You with all of me and yet, it seems that what I do is not enough.

What really connects me to heaven? To You? To eternity? Is it the song? My voice? My raised hands? My posture? My words and declarations like, “Thank You, Lord! I love You so much, my dearest Jesus!” and such like?

What makes me Yours, completely and eternally? Are they the things that I do (or not do)?

I think not.

It should be my heart. I want to know and experience again to be completely owned by You. So, take my heart. Take all of it. I give it all to You. Please own me completely. Again.

My loose painting of roses on my Monologue visual journal. I hope you like it :) .

My loose painting of roses on my Monologue visual journal. I hope you like it :) .

Still, I felt that wasn’t enough. Words of love like that seem hollow when there is something missing. Something I cannot put my finger on sometimes. It seemed that I couldn’t see that cord that connected me to my Lord, like the cord that connected a child to its mother. Suddenly, I realized that it is not the things, the activities that we do, that make us one with the Eternal King, the Savior that will bring us to His everlasting kingdom.

What makes us citizens of heaven, to be seated together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus? And to experience that everyday of our life and not feel estranged or orphaned? For me, the altar call, the salvation prayer, and the baptism in water in Jesus’ name are like lightyears ago.

By God’s grace, I never turned my back on Him ever since. But the seasons of life change and the face of our faith change with it. Just like winter, spring, summer, and fall, our lives and faith journeys shift from fallow to fruitful, sunny to stormy, rich to wanting.

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. (Ecc. 3:1)

Looking back at the 13 years of being ill and walking with the Lord Jesus, I can see the seasons changing in connection with my faith and relationship with Him. There had been seasons of fear and uncertainty. Seasons of partial healing and seasons of sickness and suffering again. Seasons of doubts, discouragement, and even resentment and wanting to rebel.

And then there was the season of great hunger for the Lord Jesus, my Savior and Healer, that I will not forget.

Looking back now, that season of hunger was also the season of being nearest to Him. He was a constant in my thoughts, in my song in the night, and in my Bible readings. He was in all of my moments.

Everything I did was to reach out to Him, to touch even the hem of His garment. For Him to see my tears. To see me and touch me and make everything okay. In that season, He was all I ever wanted. My burning desire.

One time when Hannah read to me a passage from the gospels, I cried. Hannah asked why and I said that I cried because I wanted the Lord Jesus so much. Looking back, even in that season of hunger (and more so), everything in my life seemed pure, fine, and right with God. Hunger for Him is purifying. A sanctifying experience.

And that’s where I found my answer to my soul’s questions of recent days.

Our hunger for God is what connects us to Him, surely and completely. We come before Him because our hearts are so very hungry and we know that it’s only Him who could fill that hunger. It is our hunger that He fills up. And when He does, we feel Him and all of eternity with Him. And we are that child again connected to its mother like an umbilical cord.

Without that cord, the child will die. Without His filling up our hunger, we will die. A slow spiritual death.

But if we are not hungry for Him, how could He fill us up? If our vessels are full of this world’s goods, where would His place be? First the child must experience pangs of hunger, his tummy is hollow, so he cries. He cries wantonly and will not stop until his mother nurses him and his hunger is fully satisfied.

This is what connects us to our Father in heaven: our hunger for Him. When we are hungering for Him, we will turn to Him, run to Him, hound Him, cry out to Him and reach out for Him until we can touch even the hem of His garment. We will pour out our hearts to Him like a drink offering. Unrelentingly until He comes and satiates our hunger and we will be refreshed and revived.

Deep spiritual hunger is beyond lifestyle. Above and beyond anything this world could offer. Above our gifts, the things we love to do, what inspires us. It is even beyond the beautiful praise music. Hunger for God is free of any earthly thing that cannot really, eternally satisfy. It is a hollow in our soul only He could fill.

But even this hunger for God must be prayed for and sought after.

Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. (Ps. 37:4)

We want Him to grant the desires (our prayers) of our hearts. But we must also ask that He put those holy desires in us. That we must desire Him more than the things of this world. Yes, even more than His gifts and blessings and the things we do that delight our hearts and souls and make us burst in overflowing inspiration and joy.

God fills us up by the outpouring of His Holy Spirit. We may think that we are full when our earthly desires are met, but it is only in being full of the Holy Spirit (the manifest presence of God) that we are truly full.

“…whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” (John 4:14)

When we worship, it is the moving of the Holy Spirit that assures us we are citizens of heaven and we have not lost our seat beside Christ. It is our seal, our branding, of belonging to Him, now and for all eternity. And as we do our best to reach out to heaven and touch it during worship, God will put that craving in our soul once again, craving for His love and presence and all of Him.

And that’s what I received and experienced again: the wanting of the Lord Jesus Christ so much it hurts. That experience is in and of itself pure joy and satisfaction.

(Erratum: In my previous post, it should be “steering wheel” and not “stirring wheel” 😀 . Sorry for the error).

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Journey with Jesus,

Unbroken Fellowship

We need not hide ourselves from the presence of God when He comes walking through our midst in the cool of the day, unlike what Adam and Eve did after committing the great act of disobedience: eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the very thing that God told them not to touch. All that is past — because of what the Lord Jesus has done.

walk in the light

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:13)

We have been reconciled to God through the death of His Son (see Rom. 5:10). Because of Jesus, our fellowship with the Father has been restored. Now, we have peace with Him, basking in His love, light, peace and joy. We walk with Him in the garden in the cool of the day (that is, where He has sown us) in our intertwined spirits: our spirit being one with His Spirit in worship. But it’s really more than that. Since we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, this fellowship with Him is unbroken. It doesn’t only happen when we fall on our knees, raise our hands, and sing praises to Him from the depths of our heart and soul. It is walking with Him moment by moment. An unbroken communion.

We can have it as much and as often as we want to.

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Rom. 5:1-2)

But sometimes, our plans and schedules seem to have a stronger pull than our desire to meet with God in prayer and worship, especially at the start of the day. Maybe our cellphones promise more fun as we are tempted to open them first thing, checking on likes and comments on the photos we had shared, or messages and emails that came in while we were asleep. Sometimes, these worldly things, though small time, seem more attractive to us and we fall into their charms, more eager for them than to spend time in the presence of the Lord.

To maintain an unbroken fellowship with the Lord takes much more discipline than we think. The desire to draw near to Him doesn’t come out of the blue, without any effort on our part. If we want to draw near, we do just that – we take the necessary step to get closer. How can we become closer to him when our hearts and minds are far away? When they are in another place? Even when we are in the act of worship, praising and praying before Him, it may happen that our minds are already on other things, on the plans we have made for the day, perhaps anticipating the words we are going to write on our blogs, the food we are going to prepare for the family (even dinner later tonight!), that trip to the mall or the library, etc. etc.

We don’t want God to say of us:

“These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.” (Mat. 15:8)

If we want a God-honoring life, we must be mindful of the things we think, say, and do, the little decisions we have to make moment by moment. We may ask ourselves: Should I hold my gadget again and open to social media? Or is that habit or addiction already offensive to God? If it’s irritating to our family seeing us continually absorbed in our gadgets such as our cellphone, endlessly browsing that seemingly bottomless newsfeed and watching every posted video, how much more the holy God who wants all of our heart, mind, and soul?

We must give God the best time of our day, the moment we wake up in the morning. Then, as we go through our day, doing our chores, our work, and the things that make our hearts burst in happiness (writing, painting, gardening, knitting, and baking, perhaps), even in our gathering around the table and eating, telling stories and playing – we can maintain that communion with Him. We can invite Him into our activities, silently lifting up prayers, praises, and thanksgiving towards heaven. As if He is always there in our midst. And He is, as long as our hearts are ever open to Him and our minds thinking on Him, flitting from the task at hand to Him and so on.

He said so Himself:

“…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mat. 15:8)

For Christ followers like me who have gone through various hard trials, we know how vital it is to have an unbroken access to the throne of grace. We know how unrelenting knocking on heaven’s door, unceasing whispering of prayers and urgent requests against our pillow, endlessly mulling on and affirming and declaring the Word over our life – are so essentially important in the midst of illness and suffering.

And because of this rigid training in the crucible, this discipline in our spiritual life spills over even when the testing is over, in seasons of flourishing and fruitfulness. Gratitude flows interminably like waterfalls faithfully following its course down the mountain. It is this ever-present gratefulness that reminds us to abide in the light and love of the Lord, to shut off the noise of the world and tune in to His still, small voice and catch His words with our hands and tuck them safely in our hearts, yes, even as the laughter rings out around the table and food is being savored by everyone.

We can have that perpetual conversation with Him, bringing smiles to our lips in the middle of unsuspecting family and friends’ chatter.

Have you fostered that kind of relationship with the Lord? Are you used to thinking on Him, remembering Him, and enjoying Him even in our busyness? It is possible, because His light pouring out on us is never broken.

But if we [really] walk in the Light [that is, live each and every day in conformity with the precepts of God], as He Himself is in the Light, we have [true, unbroken] fellowship with one another [He with us, and we with Him], and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin [by erasing the stain of sin, keeping us cleansed from sin in all its forms and manifestations]. (1 John 1:7 AMP)

I cannot sing in worship because of my weak diaphragm, but I endeavor to sing even just one song in the morning and in the evening. And in that one song, I do my best to give all my mind, heart, and soul to God and reach the throne of grace until I feel His touch and tears fall. It is an unequalled power and strength.

When our hearts and minds are in the dark, confused, doubtful, tempted, weak – step into His light. Come before Him with humble, contrite hearts. We don’t need to rip our garments in deep repentance, but we can tear the layer of sin or coldness around our hearts and let Him in.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8)

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Journey with Jesus,

Experiencing the Word

Living out God’s Word, that is, putting it into practice in our daily lives (e.g. “Love one another as I have loved you”), is not the same when I say, “experiencing the Word.” To experience God’s Word, for me, means that we live through it, letting it seep in and through our flesh (every pore and vein and nerve where life pulsates), our feelings (whether they be peace or fear, joy or depression, etc.), our minds (that sense and strength of reason), and our souls (that vital part of us that strains to connect with the Divine). Where “living out the Word” entails an act of obedience, “experiencing the Word” is walking through and dwelling in it in faith and letting its power work mightily in and for us.

experiencing the Word

We may do it for healing and strength, to usher in peace and unbroken hope, or to deepen  our faith. Or just simply to enter into worship.

When we set out to experience God’s Word, we are positioning ourselves to receive with open hearts and hands. Mostly for me, experiencing God’s Word is borne out of desperation.

January 2004. We had just received salvation weeks before, and amid the chaos brought about by my undiagnosed illness, the speedy and unstoppable waning of my strength and the skyrocketing of my fears and panic, we scrambled to grow and strengthen our faith. Felix was learning to worship by singing praises and I was reading the Word as if my life depended on it (and in truth, it did).

On that January morning, I had just eaten a meager breakfast and as I slowly let my weak body touch my propped up pillows, my insides trembling, my nerves humming like a motor all over my body, and my back felt like it wasn’t there, I tried to grasp strength from the praise music playing on the cassette player. Weak and dizzy, my body wanted to succumb to sleep, but I was afraid to give in to it, thinking I might not wake up again. But when I closed my eyes, the vision of the Lord Jesus coming in the clouds in all His glory played on the terrain of my mind.

There was brightness all over me there as I beheld the Lord, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle. His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass… and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength (see Rev. 1:13-16). 

The vision’s message was: Someday, whether I am asleep or awake, at the trumpet’s call, the Lord will come to take me (and all who believe in Him) and I will be forever with Him in eternity. There was nothing to fear. He has sealed me for eternal life where God shall wipe away all tears from [my] eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away (Rev. 21:4).

That vision with its powerful message instantly calmed my flesh and fears and I went to sleep in peace and comfort. It was my first Word-experience and it brought me strength and hope for the months and years that followed.

Later that year, I lay in a cot in one corner of the chapel of our church’s fasting house in a nearby province. Living in the chapel where there were long hours of praise and worship, morning and evening, and workers and payer warriors praying and fasting brought me spiritual strength as I continued to battle my illness. I was leaning heavily on my Savior, Healer, and Comforter.

Lying there, my insides, though empty, wanting to rise up to my throat, threatening to cut the air, I played in my mind the Bible scene where Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, implored the Lord to come heal his daughter. Being in internal panic myself moment by moment, I could relate to this frantic father’s desperation.

His young, only daughter lay in bed at home, dying. Every single second was essential. He has heard of the Miracle Worker who healed the sick, made the lame walk, and opened the blind’s eyes. His daughter’s miracle was within reach. He only had to make haste. When he finally found Him, he dropped to his knees and begged Him to come.

“I will come,” was the Lord’s calm reply. They set out, but a delay was inevitable. Another desperate soul desired to be healed. It had been 12 long years of waiting and she believed, now was her time. After the brief delay, someone from Jairus’ house came to tell him that his daughter was dead.

What now? I imagined Jairus’ heart stopping for a beat or two, and his knees threatening to buckle down. But before earth and sky came crashing on him, the Lord was quick to assure him, “Be not afraid, only believe.”

Over and over as fear and illness threatened to snuff the life out of me, I played that scene in my mind. When I felt like I was losing the battle, I believed and trusted in the depths of my soul that Jesus cared for me, as much as He cared for the woman who crawled behind to touch the hem of His garment and Jairus’ dying daughter, and so, He wouldn’t fail me, too. Even at the throes of death. I clung to this with every weak heartbeat and incomplete breath: “Fear not. Only believe”,  imagining the Lord assuring me with eyes of compassion and power. (See Mark 5).

During one of those long seasons where illness and suffering defined my days, I relived the story of the hapless Syro-Phoenician mother and every time I did, hot tears spilled copiously as sob after sob, I reasoned with the Lord just as she did.

Wanting so much to be relieved of my suffering, I begged the Lord to let me pick up crumbs that fell from the children’s table. I was willing to be like a dog if that was what would move His hand to heal me. I knew that I had been made a daughter of God (John 1:12) and had access for a good seat “at the table”. Meaning, His promises had been made available to me when I received Jesus into my life, just as Apostle Peter had written: His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises (see 2 Pet. 1:3, 4).

But if it pleased the Lord that I humbled myself and showed Him how much I wanted healing and be so bold as to importune Him for it, then I would gladly do it. And so, for a season, I became that Syro-Phoenician mother begging for the crumbs of healing for the sake of my young children.

But the most beautiful reliving of the Word I have ever experienced was the story of my own salvation seen through the encounter between the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned to death and the Lord Jesus. That scene, which was taken from the movie Passion of the Christ, was used in a music video featuring the song You Raise Me Up. While I listened to it, I saw myself in filthy rags, daring to raise my face toward the Savior as He gently lifted me up from the miry clay and assuring me with so much love and mercy, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (see John 8).

Aahh! The power of that moment! It gripped me so profoundly I could only sob and praise in eternal gratitude!

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Journey with Jesus,