An Insomniac’s Musings on Sleep

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How should an insomniac react to learn that her 98 year old teacher does not need sleeping aids to help her sleep soundly? How does she feel when she sees people sleeping deeply in three different positions side by side like sardines on the sidewalk at 830am amidst noisy traffic?

She is happy for her teacher. How blessed she is! She admires the street people – for their resilience. They sleep where they can; where they are. She even envies them. No pillow, no mattress, no eye shield or ear plug.

Indeed the Lord grants sleep to those he loves.
Psalm 127 reminds
Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.

I’m not saying the Lord does not love me. He does… very much. I’m not saying that the Lord does not love insomniacs. I believe that sound sleep is a gift from God. When I was young, I could get up in the middle of the night to change diapers, to breastfeed, to prepare formula and get right back to sleep soundly – and sometimes even to continue the dream I wanted continued.

The wise teacher of Ecclesiastes has this observation about sleep:

Ecclesiastes 5:12
The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.

Again, I am not saying that I am rich. Rich is relative. Relative to the street people, I am rich. Yet in the world, there are so many people wealthier than I am, and popping sleeping pills or tranquilizers to help them sleep.

So what is the conclusion of the wise teacher?
Ecclesiastes 8
16 When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night— 17 then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

The wise teacher concludes ‘no one can understand what goes on under the sun.’

For a simple-minded insomniac like me, I will charge my insomnia partly to aging and partly to bad habit… One thing I know, I can turn my insomnia into something good. Each time, i cannot sleep, it is another opportunity for me to pray for my family or my friends. Each time, sleep eludes me, it gives me time to think about life, and to write about life. It is another chance for me to reflect about myself – my strengths and my weaknesses, what I need to hang on to, what I need to let go, where to persevere, where to forgive myself and others. And somehow, when I get too tired of all these thoughts and musings, I might be in dreamland once again.

Cheers to all the insomniacs out there!

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A Life-changing Encounter

Jacob’s amazing dream: Genesis 28:10-21
Background: Jacob was running away from his brother, Esau because he heard that Esau planned to kill him. Why? Jacob deceived his father, Isaac into giving him the blessings that belonged to Esau, the eldest son. (Gen. 27)

The dream: Where: on the road as his bed, with a stone for a pillow (v.10-11)

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What: 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

How amazing? “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Jacob’s response: an offering and naming the place
18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

Jacob’s prayer and promise:
“If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

To ponder:
1) Where do we discover God? When can we find Him? We can encounter in Him the strangest of places, in unexpected experiences at the most unlikely times of our life. Jacob was fleeing and afraid for his life. He had a rough road for his bed and a hard stone for his pillow.

2) Whatever our experiences (not necessarily in dreams), It is God reaching out to us. His promise: I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will not leave you until I have done what I promised.

3) How is our response from within? Do we realise the significance of each encounter? Are we in awe of God’s presence? Do we know that each experience of God’s presence is like the gate of heaven?

4) How do we respond outwardly? Jacob made an offering of thanksgiving, he set up stone of remembrance for the encounter. He named the place. Do we remember and honour each encounter with God? In praise and thanksgiving, in testimony and remembering?

5) Basic prayer: Jacob’s prayer is simple and basic: food, clothing, shelter. Protection for his journey, food to eat and clothes to wear, safety to return home. How contented or how greedy are we when we pray to God?

6) Ultimate response:
a) Loyalty to God: the Lord will be my God. Where is my focus? Is there a shift in value or perspective when God reveals Himself to me? Do I linger in my problem or in the One who promised to be with me – never to leave me?

b) Witness for God: pillar set up to be God’s house – where others will also experience God. Do we pay it forward? Share the good news? Does an encounter with God make me less selfish and think more of the people around me?

c) Give back to God: all you give me, I will give u a tenth. All I have comes from God. What do I have that is not by His grace? What have I earned that is not by His mercy? Material blessings – how do I perceive them? How do I receive them? Are they taken for granted? With a sense of entitlement? Am I grateful? Even a breath of air is a breath of life. Can I give God back each breath I take? Does He need it from me? No and no. Giving back to God is rightful response of a thankful heart – a heart of worship. All of life is meant for worship to the Ultimate Giver of life… a worship of thanksGiving through thanksLiving.

The Why and Hows of a worry-free life:

Question: Are you worried? Why are you worried? Do you wonder how to be worry-free?

In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples the antidote to worry by pointing out to them – wrong perspectives and values in life that make us worry. We need to ask ourselves questions Jesus asked.

Here is the secret to a worry-free living:
Questions to ask when you are worried and answers to seek to stop worrying…

Q1: IS NOT LIFE MORE THAN food and the body more than clothing? (6:25b)
To ponder: What is life about? Why am I who I am, where I am? What for? What is life really about? Accumulation of things to feed my physical being? Is my life about material things of this world? Is my anxiety due to the lack of these things? Do I think I might lose them? Do I worry that I would not have enough tomorrow?

26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

Q2: ARE YOU NOT WORTH MUCH MORE? than what? the birds of the air.. lilies of the field
To ponder: What is my worth? Where do I find my worth?
In financial security? In social affirmation? In personal achievement? Doing things to please people, striving for recognition? Is my life worthy because of what I work for? Am I living because of my sowing, reaping and storing? Is life about work and rewards? Do I worth much more in my doing or in my being?

Our worth is in our being – we are the beloved children of God. God loves us so much He sent His One and Only Son to save us from eternal death.

27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?

Q3: CAN WORRY ADD to life?
To ponder: If I worry, does it make time skip the stuff I fret about? Does it make it go slower to the day I dread for it? Or will worry make it go faster or quicker – make the journey to recovery shorter? Can I add anything to life by worrying? More glory? More life?

28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’

Q4: Why am I worried?
To ponder: When I worry, am I helping God along? Or do I think I can do better – than how He can provide? Solomon was very rich yet the lilies of the field are clothed more gloriously than he was. When I worry, is it because I do not trust God to provide for me?

32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.

Implication: When I worry, I am eagerly seeking the things that Gentiles (those who do not know God) seek. What are these things? Eating, drinking, clothing… money matters, right? Read Matthew 6:19-21. All about money matters.

These questions help us find answers on ‘how’ not to worry by asking the why. These why questions highlight the reasons for worry. They show us wrong perceptions and values on life and living.

What is the right reason not to worry?

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At the start of this lesson on worry, Jesus said:
25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life,

What reason is this?

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Worry lies in the heart of one who loves money more than he loves God. The reason we worry is we love wealth. Jesus taught his disciples not to worry because He wanted to remind them to love God above all else.

Jesus started the lesson with loving God. In the same way, He ended the lesson – how to love God:

33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

The antidote to worry is to seek God – put Him first – go after the things that matter to Him – His kingdom and His righteousness. How? Find out when you read the Bible – all that He wants for His children are found in His word.

And the promise is that ‘all these things’ – all the things that you worry about needlessly, these will be ‘added’

Added – means that we will have more than we need, more than we ask, more than we ever imagine.

Life is more than money.
You are worth so much more to God.
God provides for his children.
Love God and worry no more, my friend

What more are you doing than others?

The world’s standard of success is to do more, know more, earn more and have more than others. More money, more degrees, more material resources. More popular, more powerful, more influential. ‘Be’ more than others in everything. Ambition drives the successful person. What ‘more’ are you doing than what others are doing?

Jesus asked this same question but in a completely different context. In the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5), Jesus set for His disciples standard that is Opposite of the world’s values. The 8 beatitudes speak of blessings of the poor, the mourning, the humble, the hungry, the thirsty and the suffering.

Jesus mentioned six times ‘You have heard that it was said…” (vv.21, 27, 31, 33, 38, 43) What was said? The standards of do’s and don’ts. Who said so? The world said so.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Jesus asked:
46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

In essence, Jesus asked: What are you doing that the others in the world are NOT doing?

Jesus taught His disciples the principle of the upside down kingdom of God. Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. Success is doing what our heavenly Father does: shining the sun on the bad and the good; loving both the righteous and the unrighteous. Success is being who our heavenly Father is – perfect in Love.

Love your enemy. Such a powerful radical standard – radical is not about going against the tide. Radix – comes from the Latin – root. In linguistics, it is the primitive word from which other words may derive. When you love your enemy, you can so much more than the others who hate their enemy.

To love our enemy compels us to do more than the others. God loves me even when I am disobedient, even when I do not please Him. His love for me compels me to do more… more than others…

What are you doing more than others, my friend? Is it more than what “you have heard that it was said?” Who said? Have you heard what Jesus said? BUT I say to you…Turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, pray for those who are unkind to you… do what others are not doing. Love your enemy.

Win Over Temptation

Matthew 4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

How did the devil tempt Jesus? He was timely. The devil knew Jesus was hungry after fasting for so long.

What was wrong with his temptation? Why did Jesus not do as the devil suggested? The temptation started with the little word ‘If.’ Jesus did not need to prove to the devil that He is the Son of God. It is not a 2-in-1 package – to satisfy his own hunger by proving His status.

How did Jesus resist the devil? He replied with the Scriptures. Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Deut. 8:3 I went back to Deuteronomy and read the context of this verse. It was Moses’ reminders to the Israelites about how God led and fed them in the wilderness for 40 years for the purpose of humbling them to depend on Him.

Applications:
Beware of the devil. He comes to tempt at the most timely place in our lives.

Temptation does not come from God even though God allows the devil to tempt us. Temptation is a temptation when the act is done for selfish desires – needs and wants. Jesus needed food, yes. But He did not need to prove his status to the devil.

God’s Word is our weapon against temptation. We need to be able to use it wisely. How? We need to read it carefully and regularly. After fasting for 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus was hungry physically, but I would like to think that he’s well-fed spiritually because he was praying and communing with God.

When we feed on God’s Word consistently and persistently, we then are equipped to fight the devil when he comes knocking.

Today, help me Lord to overcome temptation as Jesus did. Amen.

Noah’s Raven and Dove

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Noah’s story of the flood is a familiar one. Perhaps too familiar. Yet as I read it again this morning, I learned something new.
Then the Lord said to Noah, “Enter the ark, you and all your household, ….For after seven more days, I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights… (Gen. 7:1,4)
God told Noah exactly when to enter the ark (Gen 7:1). He informed Noah when the rain would come. God made known how long the rain would last (v.4b). Noah entered the ark on the 10th day of the 2nd month when he was 600 years old. (See 7:11 and deduct 7 days.) He knew exactly what to do and what would happen each day before things happened.
 
Did God also tell Noah when to come out of the ark? Yes.
 
Then God spoke to Noah, saying, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and your sons’ wives with you. (8:15-16)
 
Did Noah know exactly when to come out of the ark? Yes. When did he know? On the day itself! On the 601st year, in the 2nd month, on the 27th day of the month (8:14). A year and 17 days after he entered the ark!
 
What is my point? What lesson hit me?
 
God did not tell Noah when to come out in advance. Why not? And why did Noah not just ask God then?
Noah had to do some thinking and common-sense problem-solving. He had to test the waters. He sent out a raven. He sent out a dove not once but 3 times. He waited 7 days in between these times. He surmised water still covered the earth when the dove returned. He discovered plants were growing after the dove returned with a leaf. He realised the earth was dry when the dove did not return.  He waited for 40 days and 40 nights for rain to stop. He waited for 5 months when the earth was flooded. He waited some more for the water to slowly recede.
 
I often wish if only God would tell me exactly what to do, when to do it, life would be so much easier. But that is not the way of the diligent, responsible, autonomous being that God created man to be. Man is given the freedom and capacity (skill, intelligence) to make the choice – to decide how best to live his days. Making choices wisely is part of getting out of the ark.
 
Waiting is also part of getting out of the ark. Waiting without knowing is a level up – higher form of God’s honing my character. God told Noah when to go into the ark before the rain came. He gave enough notice so Noah would be prepared. God told Noah when to come out of the ark after the earth was dry. He gave enough time so the earth would be prepared… and safe for Noah to come out.
 
When God does not tell me, He is trusting me to do the best with what I have. Am I choosing wisely?
When God is silent, He is giving time for me to be at my best. Am I waiting patiently?
What is your raven and your dove? What are you doing with them? Are you testing the waters? Are you waiting actively?

Musings on New Year’s Eve

So teach us to number our days that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

It’s new year’s eve. Inventory time.. How does God love me?  Let me count the ways.

But first some guiding principles and elements in inventory taking: Who are the characters? Giver: infinite God; Recipient: finite me. What are being counted? Blessings: concrete and abstract.

How to count? While I can count the concrete, I can only ‘number’ the abstract. Counting is finding the numbers of all things together. Numbering is putting significance to each of the items counted.

The element of time:

Blessings in time – within time; from one point in time, through time – from the start of one’s being up to the present.  In a financial statement, the inventory report is dated a certain date e.g. ending December 31, 2018.

More than just numbers on the calendar (chronos time), another kind of time gives deeper significance to the gifts of the heavenly Father. Chronos time is about particular dates and numbers of seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. Kairos refers to significant events caught in time. Kairos time differentiates May 21, 1962 from May 21, 2018. The former is meaningful because then I became the first-born of my parents. The latter is significant because then I have journeyed down the kairos road of “being” a wife and a mother.

Today, I exist for certain number of years, months and days. I thank God that on my first day, my mom survived a life-threatening delivery. I want to remember with my finite limited memory bank all the time in between that day and today: my first time to be punished by my kinder teacher, the first test when I got a failing grade, when I cried over my writing assignment. I cannot remember what exact day, month and year each event happened. Such dates are not important. But I remember the day I agreed to be Andrew’s girlfriend, the day I married him, the day I miscarried Gabriel. I remember clearly how Hannah, Abigail and Mimi came to be. I treasure the day after my mom had her kidney transplant, the day after I had my lumpectomy and even the day I found out I had cancer. I reminisce the visits I made each weekend when mom and dad were still around – of the conversations we had, the words uttered, and heard. I store up in my treasure chest the smile on my mom’s face when she was weak and sick as she looked at the pictures of my children on my phone.  I cannot forget my dad’s toothless smile while he was hooked to the dialysis machine.  And what of the great comfort of Andrew’s hugs and “I’m sorry” each time we reconciled…

Many things and people in life are worthy of remembering and holding dear. But oftentimes, it is the immeasurable and the uncountable that is most precious. How do I measure the amount of air in each breath that I take? Can I quantify the joy, peace, comfort of moments spent with family and friends? Every time I look up the clear evening sky, can I count the stars reminding me of the Creator? How does one put a number to the grace and mercy of God?

I also learned that ‘less’ is often more. I recall Andrew and I lying on the bed (a little bigger than the one Hannah and Abigail each sleeping in right now) in our cozy little bedroom, Andrew said a king size bed is not as good as a small one. In the cold of winter, how do I measure the warmth, comfort and peace in our hearts as we hug each other close?

The memories of  the past year: While counting the wakes I went to is not a pleasant task to do, treasuring the moments of hugs, warm clasps of hands, comforting embrace on the shoulders between the grieving and the comforter, remembering the sympathetic smiles and words of comfort or even the silent moments when just the presence of a listening ear and an understanding companionship… are these not blessings to ‘number?’

Yes, I can count my clothes, shoes and bags, the dishes on the table, the cash in the bank, the cars in the garage… but at any one time, I cannot wear all of the clothes in the closet nor can I eat all the food in the ref, or do I need to spend all the cash in the bank or ride in all the cars to go to the place I need to be or want to go. I only need enough cloth to keep me warm and covered. I only need some food to be full. I only need a space enough to lay my head and body to sleep. Even when I do not have a car, I have two feet to walk.

I realise that more than counting, I need to put a ‘number’ to each of the blessing that the infinite Creator bestows on His finite creatures like me. The past year, how many times did God forgive me of my temper, impatience, complaints, my pride, my laziness, my indulgence, my vanity, my selfishness? How many times did He bestow His good gifts of undeserved blessings on me and my family? How do I measure God’s mercy? How do I treasure God’s grace? How do I number the love of family, the companionship of friends, the encouragement of teachers and mentors?  I ponder (think carefully), I remember, and I share with others of God’s wondrous blessings, of His great love, grace and mercy.

Counting and numbering: not just on new year’s day but in each moment of each day in the days to come for as long as I live – with each breath that I take, let me ponder and wonder, let me remember and number, let me measure and treasure.

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