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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A Clamour to be heard…

The Shwedagon Pagoda is the biggest and most precious pagoda in Myanmar. It has 3.08 tons of gold with thousands of gemstones given by rich donors hoping to get a final good long long life when the 5th Buddha comes. The 5th Buddha should have 9 qualities to be considered the One. I wonder who decides these qualifications and who evaluate the person if he is the One.

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27540718_10156033982455797_7987522709109193725_n.jpgThis is the Victory square where people pray to Buddha facing the Pagoda for whatever they wish for to come true. Our guide told us that the Leiscester soccer team’s owner is a devout Thai buddhist. This millionaire prayed in the Victory Square facing the Shwedagon Pagoda before his team was set to play for the championship of the English Premier League. Our guide said: “Coincidentally” the team won the championship. This one word made me think: why coincidence? Is it just by chance?

At the end of the tour, I asked our guide: Did you ever pray at the Victory Square? He smiled sheepishly and shook his head. I said: How come? Do you believe in prayer? Again smiling, he said: I’m a buddhist but I’m not religious. I don’t pray.
More questions to ponder: Who is the object of prayer? Why pray? How to pray? Is prayer about religion?

As I observed these people praying so fervently with their eyes closed and their hands clasped, I can imagine the sincerity in their hearts and the desires for Buddha to answer their prayers. If they were to have their prayers answered, would they consider it a coincidence? Or perhaps charge it to their deep faith and sincere heart? Or their good works: a merit for Buddha to repay their good deeds? Or maybe they truly believe that Buddha hears and answers positively to all their prayers?

I ponder these questions with respect for their religion and their faith. It reminds me once more that prayer is a relationship of the pray- er with the Superior being that he prays to – for the desires of the heart and thoughts in the mind – a clamour to be heard.

Desolation and Consolation

Desolation is the state of complete emptiness or destruction; of anguished misery and loneliness. Consolation is comfort received after desolation. Desolation and consolation… life is full of them.

I have experienced in one moment the stress of listening to gripes of bitterness and anger… I became the object of wrath or subject of critical judgment. Then in another unexpected moment, there’s consolation in having a positive response to an intentional act of kindness – no matter how seemingly hopeless or useless this act might be. Consolation comes in the form of timely unexpected call of a friend; prayers for grace of angels God sent to me.

How to traverse between desolation and consolation?

Letting go of the desolation – put it behind me… not to repeat and rehearse the cursing I heard. Not to dwell on the hateful words or hold on to the moments of grief or anger. This is not easy. I want to defend myself – how I was wronged; how I was wrongly accused or judged. I need to make the other person see and hear how hurt I am. The people we love often have the power to hurt us the most.

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Looking towards consolation is putting one foot in front of the other – to step out in hope and faith that things will get better – to offer kindness even if I do not feel like it; even if I might be rejected; no matter how short or fleeting the consolation. To forgive again and again – to give water or food to the one that hurt me… this forgiveness that is more than just plain passive letting go. Jesus calls me to love – to actively do something in spite of the desolation. In doing so, I follow Jesus to the path of consolation – to the place of peace.

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Holding on to consolation moments – depositing them in the power bank from which to withdraw my strength – for me to use as an ammunition till the next desolation comes.

Lord, heal me in my desolation and let your healing presence be my consolation.

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.

 

My Journey with the Big C – Growing in Faith

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When my mammography results showed suspicious cancer cells, my doctor was quite positive and encouraged me, saying, “Everything’s going to be fine. Nothing to worry about.”

When the biopsy results came back, his words taught me a lesson. For while it is good to look forward in hope, it is practical to accept what is with faith. The dual lens of faith is to take both the good and the bad from the hand of God.

For faith is not about who I am, but who God is—full of grace and mercy. It is not about me worrying less and trusting God more, but about experiencing and knowing God’s character more in the challenges of life. “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6).

A friend used to encourage me that living life is putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time. The Israelites had to step onto the Red Sea after the water parted. Then they had to step into the waters of the Jordan before the waters parted. As children of God, we need to step out in faith because we know that God is leading us—in fire by night and in cloud by day.

As I came to know God more through my experience with cancer, I was able to tell others who were sick and suffering about God’s amazing grace and faithfulness to me. Thus suffering opened the door for me to learn to love God and my neighbor more.

Friends with cancer, or those with loved ones fighting cancer, began to come to me with questions about treatment and which doctors to consult. I prayed for these friends, just as many prayer warriors prayed for me.

From the shy child that I used to be, I found courage to ask a young woman at the cancer center with a big tumor on her forehead if I could pray with her. Without a second thought, she said, “Yes.” I learned this practice from a cancer survivor friend of a friend. He said that each time he went for his chemotherapy, he asked a fellow patient if he would like to pray with him. In his entire treatment journey, nobody ever said “no.”

Like Paul, I knew that through my journey with cancer, I could share in the gospel’s blessings: “to the weak I became weak. . . that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

In each incident of suffering that I experienced, I have become bolder to share the good news to the people around me I have relationship with – my therapist, caregivers and even my masseuse. As they provide their services to me, I use the time to ask them about their lives, family, struggles, and joys. As I listen, I share the good news God has for them.

For all who love God are called to do his good purpose on earth, and that purpose is to make him known to all people. Through us, others will see and experience the presence, peace, provision, guidance, grace, and great mercy of our God.

Dear Lord, thank you for your presence in my sufferings. May I learn to trust you more because you are trustworthy. Let me be a channel of your blessings as I grow in faith and share my faith with those who are suffering. Amen.

Abiding in the Shadows

 

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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 mother 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 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 the pain and face the fear, and even 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 hand was 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, I was changed when I dwell (linger) in the shelter of the Most High. God 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 resting 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.

 

To worry or not to worry…

Have you experienced tossing and turning in bed unable to sleep? Why so? Are you worried about something? Is life too hard for you? I also had sleepless nights because I was anxious and afraid. I know what it’s like to toss and turn because I worry. It was horrible – to feel my whole body charged with electric current from sleepless nights. I was on the verge of breakdown. Through the years, I learned and am still learning Jesus’ antidote to worry.

I will name this list: Questions to ask when you are worried and answers to seek to stop worrying…

Matthew 6
25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

(For this reason… what reason? Refer to the passage before this. In vv. 19-24, Jesus talked about wealth and money matters.
1) Earthly wealth is temporal – houses rot, cars break down, money can be stolen. v. 19
2) Value the things that are eternal – treasures in heaven last. They cannot be stolen, and destroyed. Love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness.. Kind words, good deeds, obeying God’s command to love Him and love our neighbours.. These are priceless with no expiration date. v. 20
3) Where our treasure is, there our heart is also: we pursue what our heart considered as valuable. Where is your heart? What is your treasure? v.21
4) Light and darkness: We see clearly in the light. Do our eyes see the light? Or are we in darkness? v.22-23
5) God or money: which one for you? Choose one only… it cannot be both because if I love money, God becomes second.
So for ‘all of the above’ reason, we should not worry about life: eating and drinking. All these entail money, right? If we worry about these, we are basically worrying about money matters.

Q1: IS NOT LIFE MORE THAN food and the body more than clothing?
To ponder: What is life about? Why am I who I am, where I am? What for?

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.. they do not work for their food. How do they live? Our heavenly Father gives them food.
To ponder: What is your worth? Where do you find your worth? In financial security? In social affirmation? In personal achievement?

27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?
Q3: CAN WORRY SOLVE THE PROBLEM?
To ponder: If I worry, does it make time jump over 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?

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.
Again, how do I compare myself with the grass of the field in God’s eyes? 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… again money matters, right?

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’ (implication: added means it’s on top of God’s kingdom and His righteousness.. more than earthly treasures, seek the heavenly treasures.)

Finally, I want to share my favourite verse, my antidote to finding the desires of my heart:
Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)

When I seek after God, when I like what God likes, surely, He will grant me my desires, will He not?! So why should I worry?

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