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).

Romans_8-28

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.

12470

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.

Getting up from the mud…

What do you do when things do not go the way you want them to? How do you react when people are rude and inconsiderate? How do you feel when your actions were misunderstood, criticised and taken negatively in spite of the good intentions you have?

What do you do in the face of all negativity that surrounds you? Do you complain about it? Talk to a friend? Do you retaliate in kind? Give the people who offended you a piece of your mind? Defend yourself? Do you passively ignore them? Do you pray to God to vindicate you? Do you even pray for God to avenge you? So after doing any one of these things, what next?

I have at one time or another experienced one of the scenarios above. At one time or another, I might have responded in similar ways to one of the above. What did I learn from all these negative, unpleasant situations that life brings? I learn resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back, to be elastic and stretchable. It is being adaptable and adaptive to circumstances that life brings to us. It is refusal to stay in the mud and mire. It is picking myself up from the mud, washing off the dirt and start walking again.

How do I do that? First, I stop complaining about it. Let me illustrate. When my driver/chauffeur of 10 years resigned suddenly without advanced notice, I was taken by surprise and mad. I was angry at his disrespectful behaviour. I was insulted he sent me a resignation letter delivered by his brother-in-law addressed “To whom it may concern.” I suspect it was written by his new employer. I complained about it to his brother-in-law (who is employed with me) and my friends. Then my husband told me: I guess he’s embarrassed to come personally to us to give his notice of resignation. I realise that putting myself in his shoes helped me to be less angry. It made me stop complaining. I learn to be happy for him – if he is in a better job, then good for him.

images

I then turn to the positive aspects of the situation. One driver less is less expense for us. My daughter can drive herself to work, get parking reimbursement from her employer, and we save on gasoline. The driver does not need to take her to work and go back for her after work. She gets to manage her own time. There are 4 of us in the family who can drive. One driver can serve our needs. If necessary, I can drive for my children or my children can drive for me. We get to have more bonding moments in our rides. My driver gets to earn more. We increased his salary for his added load and to encourage him to do better.

What about when I quarrelled with my husband? It is always stressful to argue, to shout and vent our anger on each other. It is not pleasant to keep myself from defending my rights, and not get what I deserve. There is a need to have the last say. It is difficult to shut up and fume inside. It takes lots of energy and self-control to bite my tongue so the argument will stop. What do I do? I rationalise. I think how right I am. I get angry and say to myself – how wrong he was. Or I think how wronged I was. I cry. I sob. I indulge in self-pity. I learn both these responses do me no good. I dry my tears. I get up from the couch of self-pity and anger. I drove myself to watch a movie. It doesn’t matter what the movie is about – a drama, a comedy or a thriller – so long as I like it. One time I watched Phantom of the Opera. It was cathartic to continue crying in the movie – for something not my own sadness. Another time I watched King Arthur – the legend of the sword. The plot and action scenes in the movie made me forget my own angry tales. Then I bought myself my comfort food to bring home to eat. I ignored my husband the rest of the night. I went into the bathroom the next morning and hugged him to say I’m sorry. And he said ‘I’m sorry too.’ That’s the end of sad story… until the next one.

158411-Dolly-Parton-Quote-I-ll-be-wearing-my-high-heels-even-if-I-m-up-to.jpgReality of life is that there will always be difficult circumstances in our life – unavoidable or not, things within our control or not. Our mortal body (diseases, death) – with our sinful nature … in an evil world (war, prostitution, terrorism, oppression, etc.), in the natural world under the forces of nature – famine, typhoon, tsunami, earthquake, etc.; all these are often beyond our solutions to solve, beyond our abilities to handle to avoid or run away from. We have no choice but to face them as they come. But we do have a choice how we face them – how we respond to them with our attitude and perspective.

It is natural to feel sad when hurt, to feel angry when wronged, to feel anxious when sick. Grief is part of the emotions that God created in man – what are tears for? Today I still grieve for my parents. They died within 5 months of each other last year. How do I cope with grief. I think of our happy times. I look at old photos of us together. I remember my childhood days. I treasure the legacies they left behind. I honour their memory when I live out these legacies – the legacy to be diligent and responsible, the legacy to be prayerful, to be positive and encouraging, to be resilient when times are hard.

choose joy

Yes, it is easier said than done. Practice makes perfect. Everyday is a choice. If there’s a will, there’s a way. For Christians, we have the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our teacher, our counsellor and guide. He guides us and enables us to get up from the mire and to continue walking.

Mister Fantastic

Resilience: the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. This brings to mind the scenes of Tom and Jerry stretching and compressing and returning back to their original shapes after being pulled and pressed. Is it not true that cartoon characters amuse us with their ability to get back to their original shape after being squished and squashed; pulled and pushed around? Mr. Fantastic Reed in the Fantastic Four is the super hero with super elasticity he can contort himself into any shape n size he needs to save himself n the needy.

In the real world, to be resilient is to be able to get back on your feet after being struck down. It is the capacity to withstand a difficult situation and recover quickly from it.

410d315aedb5e2ccb367d8814fcbca7c.jpg

The resilience of the Filipino people is best seen in the aftermath of Yolanda – the super typhoon that struck the Philippines leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. It is amazing to listen to the stories of the survivors what they believe and how they cope in the aftermath of the storm.

We learn resilience from Biblical heroes. Job is number 1 in the list in terms of sufferings. The secret to Job’s resilience is his perspective on suffering. He knew his origin and his destination (Job 1:21). He came into this world with nothing and he can take nothing with him when he dies. He acknowledged everything he had is from the Lord (Job 1:21, 2:10). The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Shall we accept good from the Lord and not trouble? Job’s faith enabled him to accept both the good and the bad. He sees both sides of the coin: his coming and leaving; God’s giving and taking. A resilient person sees God behind all the good and the bad.

Joseph’s resilience is seen in his journey from being favored son to hated brother to favored servant to accused prisoner to trusted prime minister of all Egypt… from the pit to the prison to the palace. In his story, there was not a mention of him griping and complaining. His brothers sold him into slavery. He did not sit in the mire cursing his brothers. He just made do with each circumstance the best he could. God granted him favor in the sight of Potiphar. Joseph became his trusted servant. When Potiphar’s wife enticed him to sin, Joseph’s main concern that he could not do this evil and sin against the Lord. He was imprisoned for something he did not do. In prison, God granted him favor with the warden. Joseph again helped his fellow prisoners interpret their dreams. The fellow prisoner he helped forgot about him. When opportunities came for him to avenge himself, he showed kindness to his brothers. The key to all these is his forgiving spirit. It was sad and painful to have his brothers betray him. Yet he did not let his grief turned to bitter anger. He focused on doing best he could under each circumstance. He refused to remain in the pit. A resilient person forgives the wrongs done against him.

099f59bf78208e091c7c352c8aced919

David’s Psalms exemplified his resilience. His psalms of lament and of praise narrate his grief, his fears and his praise in the midst of trouble. He was kind to his enemies. He did not kill Saul who wanted him dead even when there was more than 1 opportunity for him to do so. He was kind to Shimei who cursed him (2 Sam. 16, 19). He also prayed for God to avenge him with his enemies. A resilient person is realistic and optimistic. David realized his sad and dangerous circumstances yet he is always sure God would turn things around for him.

危机 means crisis. The first word means danger. The 2nd is opportunity. This Chinese phrase wisely interprets that there is an opportunity in every problem. Jacob’s resilience is manifested in his encounter with his father-in-law. He wisely made use of the opportunities presented to him even when his father-in-law time and again took advantage of him. Joseph turned his prison experience into an adventure to help his fellow prisoners. This eventually got him out of jail to interpret dreams for Pharoah. David used opportunities to show Saul his loyalty by sparing his life again and again. A resilient person makes good use of opportunities in times of crisis.

I was surprised when a friend said I am resilient. How? She referred to my journey as a daughter-in-law who did not bear a son to carry on the family name. Perhaps she empathized with me the challenges of being married to an only son born to traditionally conservative Chinese parents. Perhaps my phlegmatic personality inclined me towards resilience. One thing I know I learned that God wants me to focus on what I have and not on what I do not have. I do not have a son but I have three precious beautiful daughters – who are diligent in their studies and responsibilities. They love me and love each other. I miscarried my first child – a boy. For many years, I envied mothers tagging little boys along or mothers with big tall lads to do for them what boys supposedly do better than girls. God showed me that girls can carry heavy loads just as well.

I observed that my resilience is best seen when I lick my wounds and forgive. It is useless to remain angry and sulky after fighting with hubby. It is wise to heed the biblical teaching: Do not let the sun go down on your anger. More than just passive forgiveness, I learn from Jesus that active forgiveness is washing the feet of the people who kick him – the disciple who betrayed him, who denied him and who doubted him. Resilience is stretching the limits… going beyond what is normal.

In the past few months, I had power stretching sessions with my physical therapist. Stretching is not my fave to do at the gym. Dancing is much more fun. Yet stretching allows me to go on to dancing. After my ankle surgery, I could not put weight on my foot for almost 3 months. In my first session at therapy, the PT stretched my foot with all her might. Through the past 7 months, my foot got better because of the stretching exercises I had. My PT often asks ‘Mam, tama na ba?’ I often say: “Stop.” As time passes, I learn to let him stretch a bit more before saying stop. I distract myself with my phone and text and even FB – things that I like to do so that discomfort of stretching is not as visible.

Resilience is about elasticity. It is about being pliable – adaptable to all shapes and sizes of circumstances – realities in life. God is our master therapist. He knows our limits. He will not let us go beyond what we can bear. He equips as he calls. He enables us to be resilient to each twist and turn in life’s journey. He allows difficult circumstances to mold and shape us into his image – to be holy as he is holy; to love as he loves; to be patient as he is patient; to forgive as he forgives. To be a resilient person by God’s grace and mercy is to journey with the boundless and timeless Creator – to go beyond our imagination and what we think we are capable of. Because our God is infinite – beyond limits and without boundaries, we can be resilient in trust and obedience – be pliable in the Potter’s hands.

I don’t understand your mind…

“I don’t understand your mind.”

“Yes, whatever you wish.”

the-happiest-couples

These are two difficult sentences for me. The first one is difficult to accept. Why? Because it implies that my mind is complicated. The person who said it, cannot understand me.

The second sentence is difficult to give. Why? Because it means that I am saying yes to a wish that might not be the same as mine.Am I being difficult to understand? 😀

I will make it clearer. The first sentence is difficult for me to hear because hubby said it to me.

The second sentence is what I said so we will not get further into another argument. And I do mean it. It is not easy. It takes lots of practice… 30 years and I’m still trying to perfect it. Not by a long shot!

My two-cents thought on midlife crisis revolves around these two sentences. It is not one way street though. I too often do not understand his mind. I just do not say it as often. When menopause and andropause meet, that is about the perfect formula for a midlife crisis. For those who do not know what andropause mean or do not believe in it, I assure you that it exists. Don’t take me wrong. I am not saying hubby has it. Do not tell him I did. I will deny it. I am saying that I was/am menopausal. I often wonder if I am still in it or already out of it.

Bottom line.. regardless of menopause or andropause,
“I do not understand your mind” is not only a probability. It is a reality in human relationships.

“Yes, whatever you wish.” is the antidote to crisis. It is based on the principle of pleasing my neighbor. Take note that it is not about being people-pleaser, it is not about being afraid to say ‘No.’ It is not said for fear of rejection. It is not uttered because of fear of failure – that i do not meet the expectations of others. I say “yes, whatever you wish.’ to hubby because I submit to his authority. I submit to him because the Bible teaches me to do so. I submit to him because I love him and respect him.

Respect… that is the most wanted and needed ingredient in a marriage – the one thing a wife must give her husband and the one thing hubby values most.

Abiding in the Shadows

Psalm9112

What is a shadow? A shadow is a dark area or shape formed by an object when it blocks the light. When light is shining on one side of an object, it casts a shadow on the other side.

As I look back over my journey through the darkness, I am grateful to my Good Shepherd for leading me through the shadows of life, for comforting me in my sorrow, for healing my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wounds, for teaching me lessons that I would not have learned in the bright light of the sun.

After my mom passed away, my father told me, “Din mama ya gaw.” (Your mama is very capable.) “Ee yah kut lat.” (She was very hardworking.) Each day, he grew more sad and more quiet. As he grew more frail, each visit was a test of my courage and perseverance. Every day I visited with a heavy heart. When he would say, “Amen,” at the end of prayer, I felt comforted. It grieved me to see him grieving and getting weaker.

For two months before he died, Papa had dialysis twice a week. Each time I passed through the corridor of the kidney institute, I was reminded that life goes on in the hallway leading to the dialysis center. Many sick people sat on the bench, sitting or sleeping in their wheelchairs. I wondered if some of them were waiting for a dialysis slot to open, because they could not afford to pay for the procedure on their own. I was reminded of life’s insecurities and the many blessings I have that should not be taken for granted.

During dialysis, they hooked my father’s weak and frail body up to a machine, sucked the blood out of him, and then pumped it back into his body, a procedure that took four to five hours. My heart ached to see Papa so tired and weak. I felt comforted when I could watch him sleep soundly.

During this time, I experienced the pain of love and realized that when we love someone else, we are willing to bear their pain and step into their shoes. At one point, my father was so sick, he was pooping through his mouth. Standing by his bedside, watching helplessly as the nurse gave him something to vomit into and then wiped brownish stuff from his mouth, broke my heart over and over again.

He bravely consented to go through peg insertion and dialysis just so it would not be hard for Marian and me to make decisions. He taught me that courage was not the absence of fear, but a willingness to bear fear and pain and to invite others into our fear.

When Papa fell at home, trying to go to the toilet on his own because the helper was out, he lay on the floor until the helper came back. The next day, when I visited him, his whole body shook with fear as we coaxed him to go to the toilet. When I learned that he had fallen the day before, I prayed with him, and he said “Amen,” then calmly said he was no longer afraid. I recall similar fear many years ago when I accompanied him home from the hospital after his prostate surgery. His hands were shaking in mine as we climbed five floors of stairs to reach home.

As I watched my father suffer, I reflected on the pain that God must have felt when he watched his Son suffer on the cross. In Fookienese,爱(love) and痛(pain) sound alike. The greater the love, the greater the hurt. To love means that we bear one another’s pain and suffering. It was torture to see my parents suffer while they were sick and dying. Jesus not only bore physical pain, but also the pain of having his father turn his face from him. In His agony, Jesus cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

During my season of darkness, I felt like I was encased in a dark cocoon. Like the humble caterpillar, I had to squeeze and wrestle my way out of the cocoon so that I could emerge into new life. So often I wished that God would free me from a difficult or sad situation, or change a difficult person to make my life easier. Instead, God changed me by inviting me to dwell (linger) in the shadow of His wings. He showed me that it was possible to rest in this dark time by trusting him to be my light. As I stopped struggling against the darkness, I realized that I was dwelling in the shadow of his wings.I write about memories of this dark time, because I do not want to waste the trials and lessons of my life. My hope is that by sharing these stories, others will be comforted and will praise God.

Thank you, Lord, for being a light to guide me through the darkness. Help me abide in your shadow. In the shadow of your wings, I will praise you, O Lord. Amen.

 

What should I do?

What should I do? A friend asked.

I often think that what is difficult about living life is not problems themselves. It is difficult when I do not know how to face the problems. It is not easy when I do not know what to do or my attitudes towards problems perhaps make it more difficult. Just like cooking… for me, to decide on what to cook is more stressful than the cooking itself.

This morning as I read the Psalms e.g. 6, 8-10, 14, 16, 19, 21, I observed how David coped with problems. He prayed. How did he pray?

He complained to God. He told God about his fears, his tears and all that is in his heart. He narrated to God what his enemies were doing to him. He poured it all to God. For women, this is cathartic – to be able to pour it out. More often than not, we do not really seek answers. We just need to release the pent-up anxieties and tell someone who would listen without judging with full attention and empathy.

More than just telling it all to God, David turn it all to God. He called on God to do something. Bahala ka na, Lord. Here I am surrounded with my foes. Avenge me. Take care of my concerns.

David prayed and praised. He prayed with a dual lens of reality – his circumstances and his God. Both are real. He cried out his fears but he also sang praises to his God. The God who rescues, the Avenger who takes care of the afflicted, the orphans, widows and the helpless.

David is a man of prayer. He lived out his challenging life in prayers. He sought God with his heart, body and soul. He prayed in the midst of hardships – running for his life, hiding from his enemies. Many of his psalms were written when he was troubled, when he sinned, when he was sad and burdened.

In spite of all these, he prayed in praise of his God. So many psalms of praise – singing out the wondrous works of God: His creation and salvation, revealing God’s character – His compassion and love for His creatures. (Psa 8, 9, 19, 21)

Are you troubled, dear friend? Is life giving you a hard time? Are you in despair asking What should I do? Turn to the Psalms – learn from David. Pray and praise. Tell it all to God. He listens. More than just listen, God shows us what to do.