My many faces

The many faces of me…
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Please excuse my self-musings.. I’ve been thinking that as I grow older, I seem to be evolving into a multi-complex person – the serious side, the funny side, the seemingly extrovert who’s really an introvert, someone who’s playing “Knock, knock, who’s there” with myself.. as I live in this complicated world.

And we are familiar with the FB culture that it is the natural thing to do – that we choose the best profile pic we can find, we post the pleasant inspiring thoughts we have, we share the happy events and smiling faces of our friends and loved ones. Yet behind all these ‘faces’ we show the world, there is a side of us, that we keep to ourselves, that our family members know, that only our helpers at home see. And even some blind spots of ourselves that only God sees.

One thing I know is that the Holy Spirit is my guide and teacher, constantly molding and transforming me into the person that God wants me to be.

As I look back, what a long way I’ve come from the child who would go hide in the bedroom whenever visitors came to our home – having my mom explained: Oh, please excuse her, she’s shy.

I also remember one comment in my report card where the teacher put: No initiative. 🙂 And how about the ‘snob’ image of an awkward adolescent, feeling sad and bad and even jealous of her more popular friends. Ironically, these friends were my security blanket. I was contented that I was their shadow or in their shadow. It’s good to be a follower to their programs and ideas. And in our ‘barkada’, I felt secure and accepted.

Indeed, God has a way of working all things for my good. One by one, members of this barkada, left me. But God led me to a group of ‘older’ church friends who are my models and mentors to this day. And God led me to hubby to continuously hammer and put me through fire so that I can be molded to be a better person. Not that I have arrived and become the best that I can be. I am a work-in-progress. Sometimes I go forward and many times I go backward or I slip and fall. But always God puts me back on my feet. It was painful but time heals and God’s grace is sufficient always.

When life is hard…

No pain, no gain… No rain, no growth..

This journal was written August 22, 2016. I want to remember how it was when I was lame and could not walk, when my father was gravely ill and dying, when life was difficult but God so gracious n mercifully faithful ..

Some thoughts kept recurring in my mind for the past few months. So many things have happened: my mom passed, I fell, my dad became ill.. still is…so much pain, so much grief, so many tests.. As I look back, as I am still in the middle of it.. what’s the point of it all?

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A song comes to mind: Little flowers never worry, when the rain begins to fall… If it never never rains, then they’ll never never grow.

2nd song: Trust His heart
God is too wise to be mistaken. God is too good to be unkind. When you don’t understand, when you can’t trace His hands, trust His heart. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWk8DRwDYDc

Sufferings and challenges of life either draw people to God or turn them away from God. We, as children of God are not exempted from harsh realities of life: sickness, heartaches, evils of this world, and finally, death. What makes Christians different from the rest of the world is how they respond to sufferings and trials in life.

We are made aware of our dependence on God. We realise we are helpless needy souls who rely on God’s grace and mercy day by day, moment by moment. We seek comfort that we are not on this journey alone.

Through these past months, I experience steadfast love and mercies of God, they are new every morning. I am reminded that God’s ways are higher than my ways, His thoughts not mine. I learn that God does make a way when there seems to be no way. I confess that I’m such a fool to be anxious about petty things that God had to turn my focus from them to Him. I worry about domestic helpers. My cook got sick and went home. God provided a new one even before the old one left. I worry about food to put on the table. God taught me: Give us this ‘day’ our daily bread. I review and learn new dishes with the new helper one day at a time (on youtube). My sister and I pray for God’s mercy on my father. Many times I plead: Lord, take papa home to eternal rest or to his earthly home. After almost a month now, my father is still in the hospital. Marian and I wept on the phone. I cried alone, wept with friends.

What got us through.. what holds us together? Prayers… sufferings/trials get us on our knees. I know our family has many prayer warriors accompanying us in our difficult times. I learned and am learning how to pray like Jesus: Lord, have mercy.. Thy will be done. These two seem paradoxical… Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane sought God’s will even as He prayed for God to take the cup of suffering away from him. In prayer, God’s children get to experience together the amazing grace and mercy of God. Even as I pray with my friends in their need, I get to witness how God listens and answers to the calls of those who love him and are called for His purpose: to bring glory and honour to God – so that the world will know what an amazing God we have.

Fixer upper – shorts and long

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I like watching HGTV shows – the Property brothers – buy and sell; Vacation house for Free, Love it or List it and especially Chip & Joana’s Fixer Upper.  These shows turn houses from shabby to chic; from low-value to top value; from outdated to modern living. Towards the end of the show comes pictures of before and after.  Before transformation, rooms were small and dirty. After renovations, each space is opened up, shining bright and looking fantastic. Most of these shows include segments of how much work was done, the demolition and throwing away trash, the many problems they faced.  I most like the final segment of each show – where everything is nice and perfect and the homeowners are all happy and sometimes in tears for the transformation they see in their new homes.

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In life, we are often inspired by people who have amazing transformations from bad to good, from poor to rich, from handicapped to success. We are wowed by their inspiring stories of how they overcame their limitations and weaknesses. They amaze and encourage us with their journey from failures, adversities, struggles through long dark tunnels into success, achievements and victory.  We like the before and the after. What we can never fully appreciate are the experiences of the journey.  We can only imagine how hard it must have been to be handicapped or sick or be abused or orphaned or widowed.

My life journey with adversities is not as dramatic as handicapped people missing a limb or physically impaired. I was not born into a broken home. I never knew how it was to go hungry going to sleep or feel insecure or afraid of being abused at home or in school. But I have gone through periods of deep depression and near nervous breakdown. There was a time in my life, I felt so down and out, I could not even cry. It was awful. To be sad and have no zest in anything, even the things that I used to love doing, I no longer want to do, it was terrible. Making it worse is feeling guilty about it. I know in my mind, there are millions of people out in the world who are suffering from hunger, from abuse, from fear of terrorism and wars. Many are in prisons for their faith. Yet these Christians are living in joy triumphantly overcoming the adversities and sufferings of life.

Looking back to this dark time of my life, I am truly grateful to God for seeing me through. Today, even as I am no longer in shadow lands, even as I look forward with much excitement to the launching of my book: Standing Stones of Grace – Finding Light in the Shadows, I must always remember where I came from. I should not forget how God accompanied me through the long dark tunnel.

Life is about the before and the after and everything in between. What most inspire people in stories of adversities are not just pictures of the dark side before the transformation, not even glorious products of the bright side after the transformation. What encourage me most are stories of the transformation process – what happened in the journey from darkness to light, the process of change from bad to good, from weakness to strength, from failure to success.  And this is only just for the viewers, those who look into the mirror of other people’s lives. They gaze inside the windows of the transformed spaces. These viewers of the make-overs and listeners of the stories : they are passive participants.

The fiery process of transformation – the process of turning rough stones to diamonds brings most benefit to the stone itself. In the Old testament, Job was the epitome of a righteous person who went through so much sufferings. When Job lost his children, his wealth, even his health and everything that he had, as he sat in the mud in a state of utter torment and despair, Job said “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” Job knew that God knows what He’s doing. Job believed that God’s testing would refine him, transform him and turn him to gold.

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As children of God, living life in this broken world is a work-in-progress. It is a constant change – of being transformed from glory to glory. The Holy Spirit enables and guides us in the process of sanctification – to become holy and be holy as God is holy. Everyday, we are being fixed to be put up onto another level of living space for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwells each Christian. Our body is the God’s temple. Everyday, we are being renewed to become better.

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Paul said to the Corinthians: Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Are you suffering, dear friend? Are you in the midst of heavy renovation in the Master’s plan? Do you know you are being fixed to be better? Do not lose heart. Though outwardly, things are a mess. Perhaps, the demolition and renovations are not pleasant, they are back-breaking and soul-wrenching. Inwardly, there is renewal everyday. Our ‘momentary’ troubles are refining us and shaping us – achieving for us an ‘eternal’ glory that far outweighs all the sufferings we are facing now. In the midst of troubles and life’s adversities, let us fix our eyes not on the external but on the internal. Why? Because what is external will soon end, because what is internal is eternal – it is forever. Sufferings of this world will end. It is momentary. Christians are assured that the Refiner’s hands hold them through the fire so that when they are refined and for eternity – now and forever, they will shine forth as gold!

 

 

The Prayer

How does a king respond when his country is threatened by war? What does he do when the invaders seem so much stronger and more powerful? Plan war strategies with his officials? Call on more powerful allies to help? Make peace with the enemy?

How about you? What would you do when trouble comes knocking? How would you feel? Afraid? Worried? Start thinking what to do: steps 1,2,3? Call a friend?

King Hezekiah tore his clothes and put on sackcloth to mourn. Where? In the temple of the Lord. More than just crying and grieving, he prayed.

Isaiah 37
15 And Hezekiah prayed to the Lord: 16 “Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God.

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Hezekiah looked beyond the circumstances to the Lord Almighty. Who is he? He is the God of Israel. Where is he? He is sitting on his heavenly throne, flanked on both sides by angels. What is his status? He alone is God over all the nations on earth. Why so? Because he made the heaven and the earth. He is Creator of all life.

After he acknowledged God, who He is, Hezekiah asked God to listen to him. Based on his knowledge of who God is, on this basis, Hezekiah called on God to do something. What? He asked God to open his ear and listen, open his eyes and see. See how the Assyrian king has insulted the living God.

18 “It is true, Lord, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. 19 They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands.

Next, Hezekiah looked realistically at the circumstances around him. He knew the reality of the power of the Assyrian empire. He also knew how worthless their gods were even though Sennacherib tried to deceive and convince them that God could not deliver them from their troubles.

20 Now, Lord our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, Lord, are the only God.”

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Finally, Hezekiah called on God to help them – to save them from the hand of the enemy. For what? SO THAT all the kingdoms of the earth may Know that you, Lord are the only God.

This is the essence of true prayer – to acknowledge who God is, that God is greater than all the circumstances of life, more powerful than all the powers on earth. To pray is to ask God to listen and to see the wrongs done to Him. To pray to God is to ask Him to do something so that people will know… that the Lord alone is God. Surely, God answers this kind of prayer.

Let us learn to be like King Hezekiah… to pray when we are afraid, to acknowledge both the reality of God and the reality of the problem at hand. Let us learn to pray like Hezekiah – a prayer that is all about God, who God is, what He does and will do for His sake alone.

Silent reply

Isaiah 36
21 But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”

22 Then Eliakim son of Hilkiah the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and Joah son of Asaph the recorder went to Hezekiah, with their clothes torn, and told him what the field commander had said.

What happened here? Why were the people silenced? Why did the king command them not to answer? Answer who? Why were the palace officials in mourning?
What did the field commander say to the people?

Read Isaiah 36:4-20. King Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah and sent his field commander to deliver an insulting message – to demoralise and taunt the people. King Hezekiah was given a message for him to surrender and submit to Assyria. The people were being convinced not to believe Hezekiah when he said that God will deliver them from Assyrian attack.

What do u do when people insult you? What is our natural response when we are forced to listen to unpleasant words and unwelcome news? Is there not an urge to cry out? or run away if cannot take it anymore?

It is hard to be silent in the face of oppression. It is not easy when people wrongly accused us or threaten us or oppress us with words. Each time I face this kind of situations, I often think of Jesus when he was silent during his trial. In the reading today, the people were commanded to be quiet – not say a word in defense of their king and God. The officials were so grieved, they tore their clothes in mourning.

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How did King Hezekiah stay strong in the face of difficult challenges and insults? It is his knowledge and faith in his God – the God who is his first and last resort. In the next chapter, we read how Hezekiah lamented and grieved. He knew how the Assyrians insulted God and he believed God will himself avenge them. The king sent messenger to Isaiah for him to pray for the people to God.

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Today, I am still learning the virtue of silence… to keep quiet even when the urge to speak or cry out – to defend myself is great. It is hard, sometimes when I cannot utter the words, when I have to swallow the words, I let my tears flow instead. God sees. God knows. He uses such situations to transform me into the likeness of Jesus – to be meek and calm and at peace in the face of harsh and wrong accusations.

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How about you, dear friend? Take heart, God sees. God knows. God is with you all the way – he will see you through.

 

The good and the bad

Question… Shall we accept good from God and not trouble? What is your answer? What kind of question is that, you ask. Well, it is a rhetorical question asked by a real person in the Bible. In Job 2:10, Job asked this question after he said to his wife: You are talking like a fool. Why? Because his wife told him to curse God and die so he would be free from his suffering. (2:9)

This question has been on my mind often. It is a reminder to me of important truths about my faith.

First, Job acknowledged that both the good and the bad come from God. It might sound heretical to say that bad things come from God who is all good. It sounds complicated but it is simply how life is lived and viewed through the lens of faith. Job believes that both the good (his wealth, his children, good name, fame, the good life) and trouble (his loss – death of his children, physical sufferings) in life are from God.

Second, Job accepted both the good and the bad. It is easy for me to receive all the good things in life – thank God and praise God for all the blessings he gives. It costs me nothing. It is human nature to be happy when life is bright and sunny – when all is well… no fear, no worries, no problem, no sickness, no trouble. But when bad things happen, when disaster strikes, when sickness comes knocking, it is human nature to cry out in pain, to cringe in horror, to run away and hide. How can a normal sane person accept trouble without the natural response inherent in his being?  His faith!

If God gives me good things, I rejoice and praise him. When God allows bad things to happen to me, I cry out and cling to him. That is how Job coped in his sufferings. He acknowledged that his troubles came because God allowed it. He believed in his heart that his life is in God’s hands – both good and bad come from his creator.

Let me illustrate with a simple example how I appropriate this important question in my life. I love my husband. He is a good man. As with all men, he has his strengths and weaknesses. We have been married for 30 years now. Today, I still struggle to accept the good and the bad in our marriage. I admire many of his good traits but I am also pained and angry with his shortcomings. Yet i realised that in both the good and the bad, God does work all things for my good. Through the pains in life, God wants me to be a better person – a better wife, a better mother, a better friend, a better follower of Jesus.

It is through the storms of life that I grow to be strong. It is in helpless situations that I depend on God to help me. It is when pride is hurt that I learn humility.

So shall we accept good from God and not trouble? Can we? Yes, we shall and yes, we can. How so? Because we know that in all things (good and bad) God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom.8:28). What is his purpose? His purpose is for us to glorify him – that all people will know God through our lives – in all things (good and bad).

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The Fad or the Odd?

 

To blend in or to stand out? Peer pressure is an issue not just for adolescents, adults have it too.

In the Bible, in 1 Samuel 8:5, the Israelites said to Samuel: “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

For years since their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites had always have God as the leader. God spoke to them through Moses. When Moses died, Joshua led them through the conquests until they fully possessed the Promised Land. After Joshua, God raised many judges to lead the Israelites. God used prophets to speak to the people and guide them on what to do. They had no king. God was their king. During the final years of Samuel, the people asked for a king.

 

They had valid reasons for the request. Samuel was already old. His sons were not like him – they were corrupt and not walking in the ways of the Lord.

But their more important reason was “such as all the other nations have.” When God told Samuel to warn them about the disadvantages of having a king (vv. 9-18), they refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.” vv. 19-20

What lessons can we learn from the story?

Samuel was upset about the request. God encouraged Samuel that it is not him they were rejecting but God Himself. Let me remember that God’s work is God’s – let me not be discouraged when people or things seem to be against me… because it’s not about me, it’s all about God.

To be like all other nations… is that a good thing? Seems like it… All other nations had a king, why not us? All other people are doing this, why not me? In life, we often feel more comfortable and safer to be with the majority. Majority rules. But not so in God’s kingdom. Children of God are called to be ‘in’ the world and yet not ‘of’ the world. To be ‘in’ the world is to live in the realities of the world – not detached or out of touch, but be involved and aware of the things happening in the world. To be ‘not of’ the world is to stand different from the world – stand for what is right and good in God’s eyes. It takes courage to go against status quo and stand alone knowing that it is what pleases God.

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The more mature a Christian is, the more he will discern and be courageous to stand alone for what is right and good in God’s eyes. When I was young, I felt most at ease and comfortable when I was with my family, with my friends, going along with the majority. It is awkward to be alone. I was afraid to be different and have people ridicule me or criticise me. As I grow older, I seek to be different – to be more independent of people’s opinion and more dependent of God’s perspective. Not that I am perfect, I still crave for affirmation and approval of people, but God taught me lessons on this – to be courageous to be different and make a stand for the right. Many times people might not appreciate what I do. The important thing is am I doing what pleases God?

It’s not about me but all about God.