Waiting in the Shadows

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When Mama passed away, I wrote in her eulogy: There is “a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die. . . a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1–2, 4). We comfort those who are mourning, and we rejoice with those who are rejoicing. We laugh and weep together because there is a time for everything, and everything in its time.

God has made everything beautiful in its time—the time to do whatever needs to be done, whatever is fitting.

But God has also set eternity in our hearts—a sense of timelessness. We can never understand what God has done since the beginning of time, nor will we ever imagine what God will do till the end of time. And so even as we live in time, we wait with hope for the end of time. Yet waiting for the fulfillment of this promise is difficult, especially if we do not know how long we have to wait.

Paul encouraged the Romans to be joyful, patient, and faithful. Joy and affliction are paradoxical realities. It is not easy to be joyful in affliction. But when there is hope, joy is possible. Hopeful joy helps me to be patient in suffering. I wait in joyful expectancy that the suffering will end. Days will be better.

This joyful hope sustains my prayer just as much as hopeful joy keeps me praying. When I expect God to do good things for me, I wait patiently with joy, even amidst sufferings. This is not possible by my own strength, but only by persistently keeping in touch with the One who is faithful, who is my source of joy and hope.

I thank God for the lessons I learned through my parents’ sufferings, in sickness, and in death. In the days and weeks that followed my mom’s passing, I kept visiting my father, who was so frail, weak, sad, and sick. Many times I prayed, “Lord, have mercy, take Papa quickly so he will not suffer so much.” But God’s ways are not our ways, and over time, I began to pray, “Lord, have mercy, Thy will be done.”

During Papa’s sickness, my sister and I learned how to help one another, forgive one another, pray more and depend on God more. We each discovered new meanings in Jesus’ prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

I learned that the greater the pain, the more I would learn about humility, patience, courage, trust and dependence on God. I practiced how to be strong, one step at a time, moment by moment, day by day as I sought to depend on God’s grace and call on his mercy.

One day, my sister called me and said: Papa is so different today. How?

“He ate ice cream, asked for water, asked to go to the toilet because he didn’t want to pee in the diaper, and he also asked for bread,” she told me. “He also asked,  How old is your elder sister?, and I said, ‘She is 54 years old.’ And he smiled.”

“He’s asked me that before,” I told her. “Biya, How old are you?

During these times, my sister and I were ‘mababaw ang kaligayahan’ (shallow happiness), because we were easily pleased by the simple pleasures in life.

Because he could not see, each time I visited him, I would say, Pa, I’m Biya.” Happily, he replied:You, Biya?”

We learned to find joy in each one of papa’s talkative or alert moments, to delight in his memories, to record the words he spoke, or, later, the way he opened his mouth to utter words his voice could not sound. We learned to be grateful for his good appetite (for ice cream, soup, and siopao (pork buns) —which we did not give him because we worried he might choke). We learned not to take for granted his toothless smile in unexpected moments, his nod or his furrowed eyebrow to acknowledge our presence when he could not speak. We learned to praise God for sunshine on dialysis days, for kind nurses or hospital staff, for light traffic along the way, for arriving safely at his destination. We even praised God for solid poops.

I paid attention to the way God faithfully provided such good caregivers for my father. I remember with gratitude when a friend who visited me during my sickness ministered to my father when he was in need of a catheter not available in the hospital he’s staying. She helped us source the catheter.

The fire of our father’s suffering—his peg installation, pneumonia, sepsis, bed sores, colon obstruction, stent insertion, and on-going dialysis—enabled our family to experience greater heights of joy together. After watching him endure excruciating pain, we rejoiced when he received relief. Because of our journey through the long dark tunnel of sickness and death, we began to watch hopefully for each momentary glimmer of light. These flashes of light and hope gave us courage to face the road still ahead of us.

In the last few months of Papa’s sickness, whenever Marian and I asked if he was in pain, he always answered in the negative. Only once did he admit to his caregiver that he was in pain. Even so, we always knew it was painful for him – from his facial expressions: when he winced, jerked his arm or hand, or covered where it hurt. His courage and endurance of pain encourage us to be brave.

With the psalmist, we began to delight ourselves in the Lord, trusting him to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). For the God of yesterday’s pain is with us today and forever, and His grace and mercy will lead us through each step of our journey.

Lord, help me to delight in you. Shape my desires to your desires so that I can receive whatever you give with gratitude, trusting in your love and goodness. Enable me to be joyful, hopeful and faithful even as I wait in the shadows. Amen.

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Growing in Gratitude

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Those who go hungry appreciate most the feeling of being full. Those who have been thirsty realize the value of water.

In the aftermath of Yolanda (Haiyan – the super typhoon that hit the Philippines in November, 2013 taking thousands of lives), I remember a high school student, who went days without taking a bath, sharing how he savored each drop of water in his bath after the disaster.

So in my journey with cancer and a broken ankle, I learned to be thankful for my oncologists, surgeon and caregivers, who knew my needs and looked after me over the years. I learned to be grateful that even though my medications caused side effects, my oncologist was able to recommend helpful remedies.

When I remember the love and care I received during these dark times, I am overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. Of the people God sent to help lighten my load and brighten the way, I am especially touched by our family helpers.

When I fell and could not walk, my drivers helped to carry me in the wheelchair down and up two flights of stairs each time I need to consult the doctor. I remember each meal prepared, each item of clothing washed and ironed, every plate, spoon, fork, and cup washed, every room of the house cleaned. I recall each bath and ride in the wheelchair.

I think further of the hands and feet that did all those things. And I reflect with thankfulness the hearts and minds that move these hands and feet.

Sufferings are lenses through which we see life and living in a different perspective. These lenses magnify and enhance the trivial and unseen things, things I previously took for granted. Remembering to put on these lenses helps me to open my hands.

Jesus had these lenses on when he saw the poor widow put two small copper coins into the treasury. “Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on’” (Mark 12:43–44). Jesus commended the widow because she gave everything.

Similarly, Paul commended the churches in Macedonia because “in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability they gave of their own accord” (2 Corinthians 8:2–3).

When I hesitate about giving an extra tip to a porter or a waiter, I think about how insignificant this amount is in my bank balance—and yet how it might help the waiter put food on his family’s table, or how it might enable a street kid who watched my car to buy medicine for his sick mom.

Being generous is a gift from God, who does not withhold any good gift from his children. For he gave us the gift of Jesus, who “was rich, yet for [our] sake. . .became poor, that [we] through His poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). No matter how much I give, I will never outgive God.

Dear Jesus, thank you for giving yourself to me. Thank you for giving up the glory of heaven to be like us. Thank you for your sacrifice on the cross for my sins. Help me to give generously in joy and gratitude for the goodness you have bestowed in my life. Amen.

Traveling light

Do you know where you’re going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to, do you know?
Do you get what you’re hoping for?
When you look behind you there’s no open door.
What are you hoping for, do you know?

People rushing in all directions.. in suits, in jeans, with suitcases, with child, deep in thought, talking on the phone…

This is the scene at train stations, in airport terminals, bus terminals, shipping ports n docks.

Where are the people going? What are they thinking? Who are they meeting? How are they feeling? When will they arrive? Why there n not here? Why today n not tomorrow?
Heavy luggage or light? Big bag or small? What’s in the bag? Why bring them? Are they bringing it back or giving it away?

Travel light.. in life or on vacation, it is wise to travel light. Why?

The journey is faster if the burden is lighter. It is easier to go up or down the stairs when your luggage is smaller. Luggage with wheels better in plain smooth path than rough uneven roads.
In life, travel light. Bring the essentials only. I discover that sometimes many things I brought along are excess baggage. I discover that they take up space for what I need more or they just plainly add weight to what I carry.

Leave your cares behind, regrets, anger, bitterness, disappointments, frustration.. they are excess baggage that you have to pay heavily in your travel .. the more kilos, the more fees. People with heavy baggage are weighed down by the past. They missed the present n worry about the future.

Today is another new day. What heavy load am I dragging with me? Time to leave them behind. What is preventing me from travelling light? Bitterness? Unforgiving spirit? Regrets? Are these essentials for going forward? What good is it to bring along the what-could-have-beens or the if-onlys? Can this turn back the clock and make things better?

What to do instead? Unload… discard the non-essentials… throw away the negatives… pack only the essentials. Move forward in faith, hope and love. Only these 3 last. And the greatest of these is love.

Love covers a multitude of wrongs. Love bears all things. Love is patient n kind. Today let me bring along love in my journey… Love God n love my neighbour.IMG-b80366e3b33977c91b52a0cb71f20658-V.jpg

Choosing Joy

This morning I reviewed my journal of March 8, 2016. It was entitled To walk away in joy from frustration. Here is the account.

If there’s a will, there’s a way. If I decide not to be pulled down in irritation and frustration, I will find a way and make a choice not to be. How?

First, I need to be aware of the source of my frustration. Why am I upset? I am right…he/she is wrong? I am wronged…is he/she right?

Second, does it matter that much? So what if I am right and he/she’s not? Many times, the source of the conflict and the issue in the conflict are trivial when I look back on it.

Just let it go. I like the Hokkien proverb: “Tsih na bo ngh e bueh tan.” Literal translation: It takes two coins to make a sound. English paraphrase: It takes two to tango. If I decide not to get into the argument, there is no argument. If I decide to let go, then nothing to argue about.

Choose my wars and choose my timing. In the heat of the moment, many things are said which ought not to be. And even if they need to be said, they might not be uttered in the right manner – right words, right tone and right attitude. Let me be slow to anger, slow to speak and quick to listen and quick to hold my tongue. Then I will be one step closer to being joyful (not pulled down with anger and bitterness – in frustration/irritation.)

I often have to review my past – what I wrote almost 2 years ago still applies. Today I am still learning how to live wisely – to choose joy.  I realised the first step towards joy is humility. It is letting go of the ego – to be right; to prove I am right – to win the argument. Many issues that seem so important fade in significance when I look back on it. They are petty and trivial. They are not worth the angst and the grief of fighting over it. Many times I could have saved myself a lot of stress from anger and frustration if only I knew which battles to fight for and which ones to let go.

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Jesus, I come to you. Show me and help me to be gentle and humble like you.  I need wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to show me. Amen.

Journey with the big C: Growing in Grace

 

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One dinnertime, shortly after my cancer diagnosis, when all my children were gathered around the table, I saw the older ones put food on my youngest daughter’s plate. I was greatly comforted to know that Mimi, who was just seven, would be cared for by her achis (older sisters). In that moment, God let me see that whatever happened, my children would take care of one another. His grace would be sufficient. All things would work together for the good.

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“Don’t waste your cancer,” John Piper wrote on the eve of his cancer surgery. By living well with cancer rather than dying from cancer, Piper believes that Christians with cancer can glorify God.

Certainly, no one would choose cancer! But during radiation, I experienced the precious warmth of God’s great love for me and the embrace of his grace and mercy more than at any other time of my life. When I felt physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted, frustrated, or depressed, God was my constant companion. As I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, he joined me and walked with me.

Looking back, there are many things in my life that I would not have chosen for myself, but these circumstances always made me grow, leading me to deeper knowledge of God and a fuller experience of God’s love.

When I felt weary, tired, worn-out, and wanted to give up, God said, “Run to me.” When the burden was heavy, and I felt weighed down with anger, sadness, worthlessness, and self-pity, God said, Come to me. You are my beloved. I am with you always. I love you. I forgive you. I treasure you. You are precious to me. I put you here for a purpose. I will enable you to accomplish the purpose. People will glorify me because of you. Stop struggling. Come to Me, and I will give you rest—from working to please people, from struggling against anger and anxiety, from striving to be right, from seeking after affirmation (drawn from Matthew 11:28–31).

For it is cumbersome to lug around heavy baggages! We will be hindered from moving on. This is why seasoned travellers only pack essentials. They know exactly what they need—and also what they don’t need.

Hebrews 12 teaches us this same principle for our spiritual journeys:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (vv. 1–3).

Hebrews 11 describes this great cloud of witnesses as great men and women who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground (vv. 33–38).

These people threw off everything that hindered them from obeying God. They persevered in their goals, hanging on to the promises of God.

Today, Christians are called to the same path. We need to fix our eyes on Jesus, the example of true obedience to God, the Father. Jesus endured the shame and suffering on the cross to fulfill God’s salvation plan for mankind. Jesus now sits at the right hand of God in heaven. When we fix our eyes on Jesus and remember how he suffered and persevered to the end, God promises that we will not grow weary. We will not give up. Each one of us has been called to glorify God.

In the Old Testament, prophets were called to make known the Sovereign God to obstinate people who would not listen. Most of the prophets were exiled—Jonah swallowed by a big fish, Daniel thrown in lion’s den, Jeremiah thrown in the pit to starve, Ezekiel told his wife would die, Hosea told to marry a prostitute! None of them volunteered to be God’s prophet, but God called, and they obeyed.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Each problem we experience, each grief we bear, every frustration and disappointment in our lives is an opportunity for us to experience God. In sorrow, he gives comfort. In despair, he gives hope. With unlovable people, he enables me to love. For each dilemma, he gives wisdom. In trouble, he gives peace.

When we face difficulties, God is glorified—not because the problem goes away, but when we live out of God’s amazing grace, when we become joyful in spite of our circumstances, when we give thanks in everything.

It is easy to be happy when life is rosy, because we don’t need God and can manage on our own. But when there is financial trouble, when relationships are broken, when sickness comes knocking, when our children do not get healed from a terminal disease, when our families are not spared from the tragedies of fire, earthquake, and other natural calamities, we can shine amidst the darkness as we stand firm in faith, hope, and love, trusting that the God who loves each one of us will lead us through the ups and downs of life.

Just as it takes hot water to bring out the taste in teabags, our lives will have more impact and show forth greater glory when we hang onto God in the midst of difficulties.

We all have a “cancer” in life, something “toxic” in Pinoy culture. But we can all invite God to transform what is malignant into something benign—or even good.

For God’s grace is sufficient. He sees us through the long dark tunnel. With each difficult challenge, he enables us to overcome by nourishing us with his Word. As we read his promises, trust in his word, and obey him, we will experience how “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Dear Jesus, I come to you with my heavy load. Help me take on your easy yoke and know your rest. I have trouble in the world. Help me take heart and know your peace. Amen.

 

A Joyful Encounter

How do you respond when life sucks? How does it feel to be in a crisis – be it financial, health-related, or in a broken relationship? Unless one is a masochist, it is not in human nature for a person to seek a difficult life. Alas, but life is not a bed of roses – even for the rich and famous! So what are the children of God, followers of Jesus to do when life is hard? How are we to face our problems? Captain Jack Sparrow has a point when he said: ‘A problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.’

James, a disciple of Jesus said: Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, (James 1:2)

Who are these brethren he wrote to?  To the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad: (v.1) The twelve tribes refer to the twelve tribes of Israel – Jewish believers who were scattered all over – outside their homeland. They were Christians who were facing persecutions for their faith.

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Why did James write about being joyful when one encounters difficulties?

3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Life challenges test us – our faith, our tenacity, our grit. In those days, Christians were persecuted – they were being killed for believing in Jesus. James encouraged them to be aware that these trials were a test of their faith – how truly they believe and stand for what they believe. The test is for them to endure – to persevere and not give up. The goal of testing and enduring is for them to become mature.

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In high school, I learned a song ‘Little flowers never worry. If it never never rains, then they’ll never never grow.’ A stormy life tests our endurance. It makes a person strong. I remember my husband gave me poster when we were dating. ‘Do not pray for an easy life. Pray to be a strong person.’ The reality of life in this world is a reality of sickness, evil, broken relationships, natural disasters and continuous difficult challenges. No one is exempt – not even Christians. The difference between Christians and non-Christian is Christ in them. We have the Bible – God’s word to encourage us and we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. When we face challenges, we have a resource – a lifeline to help us go through the dark tunnel.

James continues: But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (vv.5-8)

God waits for us to go to Him for wisdom. God generously gives wisdom if only we ask. He is not only generous, he gives without reproach. He does not reprimand us for being foolish to ask for wisdom. He does not judge us. Never would he say: O how dumb you are, you don’t know what to do?!  When we ask for wisdom, we need to ask in faith – fully believing that God will grant us wisdom. We must be firm – not wavering, tossed to and fro by the waves and winds of the storm.

12 Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

Again, James wrote about persevering under trial. To persevere is to endure till the end. There is a promise of the crown of life for those who pass the test of faith. Most importantly, it is a promise of the Lord for those who love Him.

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. 16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.

We need to beware of blaming God for the difficulties that come our way. Are difficulties a temptation or a test? A test is for good – to make us a better person. A temptation is for evil – to make us do wrong. Is the difficulty a result of a sinful act? Let us beware of being misled and be discerning to know the difference. Sin has dire consequences. One wrong bears fruit of endless evil.

On the other hand, our heavenly Father graciously gives us good gifts. Let us not forget that all good things come from Him.

17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. 18 In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

When life is hard, let us remember the good things God continuously gives to see us through. It is to be joyful encounter when we face trials because then we shall be fruitful witnesses of the good God, Father of lights who changes not.

 

Stress free and happy

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Hey, do u want to be happy? Do u want to be worry-free? Do u wish for a stress-free life? Let me tell u share with u the formula Paul taught the Philippians. He told them to rejoice ‘always’ – always means good times or bad! Huh? How?
1) In the LORD! Not in success, not in security, not in money, not in fame nor popularity… But in the Lord. 4:4
2) Know that the Lord is near. v.5 He is coming soon. Let us rejoice in hope of this wonderful day.
3) v.6 tells us To worry for nothing, but in everything to pray. How? with a thankful heart, tell God all your requests. Then what? There is a promise from this exercise of worry-free, heart full of gratitude praying to God. Surely, the peace of God which gives us joy will be with us. We will experience His peace which is beyond human comprehension. People will be amazed at how this peace will keep our hearts and our minds steady in joy; steadfast unwavering in our gladness as we abide in Jesus Christ.
4) Another formula to joyful heart is found in v. 8. We are to think good things. The mind that is focused on the true, the honourable, the right, the pure, the lovely, the good repute, the excellent and all that is worthy of praise, surely when my mind is filled with these good things, my heart is filled with joy.
5) Finally, out of the heart, the mouth speaks, the hands acts and the life lives! When I intentionally practice to live a joyful life, the God of peace is mine to enjoy and experience!

Philippians 4
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.