The Good Old Days

When life is hard and you’re down in the pit, how do you cope? When all you have is taken from you, when you are not in the best of health, when ‘friends’ mock you, when you wish you were not born or hope for death sooner, what do you do?

I’ve been reading Job the past week. His first response when he lost everything was praise (Job 1:21) He went through a week of silence (2:13), then he had lots of conversations with his friends. Before that he had a short conversation with his wife: You’re foolish. Should we only accept the good from God and not the bad? (2:10)

He also had lots of one-sided conversations with God. God did not reply him until chapter 38. It must be difficult to hear nothing from God and all condemnation/justification from his friends on why he’s suffering.

Job coped with having lots of self-reflections as well. He spoke out his thoughts to his friends even though they were not good counsellors at all. He told them: you’re all sorry comforters. What a comfort you are to me. (16:1-2, 19:1-2)

Today I read chapter 29. Job thought of his better days. He recalled the good old days when God blessed him with good things, when friends and family were with him. He remembered the good things he did, how he helped people. He reminisced how he was treated by people all around him – how their favours were upon him.

I believe this is one good way to cope when one is in the valley of the shadow of death. When I was deeply in despair, when all seemed dark and grey, it helped me cope to remember the past when God saw me through. It helped me to focus on God’s faithfulness – that He always comes through for me. It is good to look back and remember.

Dear friend, when the way is dark and the tunnel seems long and unending, when you cannot see what is ahead, it is good to look back – to remember there is a Light behind you. Jesus said I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12). It does not mean that we will not experience hard times, but it is an assurance that we will find our way when we get lost. Jesus shows us the way to go through dark times.

 

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Joy in Pain

“But it is still my consolation,
And I rejoice in unsparing pain,
That I have not denied the words of the Holy One. Job 6:10

Job is a wealthy man living in the land of Uz with his large family and extensive flocks. He is “blameless” and “upright,” always careful to avoid doing evil (1:1). … God boasts to Satan about Job’s goodness, but Satan argues that Job is only good because God has blessed him abundantly. So God allowed Satan to inflict calamity and illness on Job to test him. His wealth (flocks of sheep, oxen, donkey etc) and family (10 children) all died in one day. He was stricken with painful boils from the head to foot.

At the height of his suffering in the pit of his pain, Job’s comfort and joy is the words of the Holy One. It is not being a masochist to be celebrating pain. Only the strength from the knowledge of the Holy One enables Job to find consolation and joy in the midst of pain.

Scholarly studies have been done that connect spirituality with pain management. Not only physical pain but emotional and mental as well. Here’s a link to one on spirituality and pain medicine. https://academic.oup.com/painmedicine/article/…/1/51/2460400

“…. spirituality can be broadly defined as an experience that incorporates a relationship with the transcendent or sacred that provides a strong sense of identity or direction that not only has a strong influence on a person’s beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and behavior but is integral to a sense of meaning and purpose in life.

From this framework arises the concept of spiritual well-being. In this state, a person has a sense of peace, comfort, and strength that arises from a sense of meaning and purpose that is often linked to a connection to the transcendent but also arises from these other activities and relationships. Therefore, in the sense that we all have relationships and activities that provide us with varying levels of a sense of meaning and purpose in life, a level of spiritual well-being is common to all.”

Job’s relationship with God provides a strong sense of his being – naked I came from the womb and naked I shall return. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Job’s main purpose in life is to worship God… even in the ashes! Job credits all that he is, all that he has – the good and the bad come from God. His life events are not random. He believes ‘nothing comes from nothing.’ Everything is from God – even unsparing pain!

Are you suffering, my friend? Is life full of challenges? too much to bear? Take it to the Lord in prayer. Cast your cares on Jesus because He cares for you. Job did it. You can do it too!

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The Comforter

Have you ever felt helpless and speechless going to a wake? I have. I have also witnessed the bereaved comforting the “comforter!” Hubby once went to the wake of a friend’s young daughter. Minutes after sitting beside the friend, he started crying. I can still picture in my mind, the hand of the friend going behind hubby’s shoulder and patting him gently. What a scene!

Job 2:11-13 record for us the profile of what seems to me to be the ideal comforter.

Job’s three friends all came from different places and they agreed to go together to comfort him. Don’t we often do this? We accompany each other to wakes. It’s easier not to do this alone.

When they ‘saw’ Job, they ‘raised their voices and wept’. They even tore their clothes and put ashes on their heads. They came, they saw and they mourned.

Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

And how did Job describe these 3 friends? “you are miserable comforters, all of you!” Read Job 16:2. What happened? It started when they opened their mouths! Read all about their great debates from Job 4-15. The point of their argument is: Job is suffering because he did something wrong.

Lessons to ponder…

To mourn with those who mourn is to ‘see‘ – to realise how great the sorrow and pain of those grieving.

It is also to be in the ‘shoes’ of those grieving – to feel as they feel, to cry as they cry.

7 days and 7 nights – it’s even as long as the longest wakes I usually hear of. In the Philippines, ‘lamay’ usually lasts for 3 to 7 days.  Journeying with others in their suffering takes time – time which is often a luxury for us to offer. During the wake, the bereaved is in the company of friends who come to comfort. It is a temporary period where pain and grief seem a little bit more distant or bearable. What about the days, months and years after?

To See

More than time itself, what is my attitude when I offer my time? When I am grieving, the presence of a friend holding my hand, patting my shoulders and giving me a tissue to wipe my tears – these are treasures more than words can offer. What motivated Job’s friends? ‘for they SAW that his pain was very great.’ Again, to mourn with those who mourn is to ‘see’.

Am I willing to sit on the ground to grieve with those in grief? When I feel helpless and speechless, when I ‘SEE’ how great her pain is, then perhaps it’s when my grieving friend gets most comforted!

Lord, open my eyes that I may see.

Not a word

When you do not know what to say, it is best not to say anything. I have been on both sides of the fence – to comfort the bereaved and needing comfort as the bereaved. When my mom passed away, the story of Job came to mind. I did not feel like narrating the story of how my mom passed away again and again. I did not feel like talking at all. I just wanted to sit quietly with my friends.  So I wrote a note to let them read: Thank you for coming. Thank you for sitting with me quietly.

In the end, I put the note away, because it was so unorthodox and did not jive with our culture of grief. Ours is one of words. We often think we need to say something – to offer solutions, words of advice and comfort. We feel the need to break the silence: a culture of denial—showing a brave face, a strong spirit, covering the sadness with chatter, pushing away the grief with words of “comfort.”

My parents died within 5 months of each other. My mom who was 13 years younger went ahead of my dad. In the months that followed their sickness and passing, God sent my sister and me many companions to be with us on our journey.  In hindsight, I realise that the most precious gift they offered us was their time—listening to our prayer requests, uttering a kind word, visiting my parents when they were sick and praying with them, being present when we needed them most.

I know that these friends were motivated by their love of God and their love for us. Love compelled them to open their ears to listen to our grief without faltering. Love opened their eyes to see our need for encouragement and companionship.

In the Chinese culture, bereaved people avoid going to visit friends’ homes, because it might bring bad luck to the household they visit. Because of this belief, a friend was greatly comforted when a family friend told his mom, “You can come to my home wearing your blackest attire anytime.” Indeed, no journey is too hard to bear as long as we know we are not alone.

When God created Adam, he said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We are not meant to live our lives alone. We need people to walk with us through our challenges, reminding us that God is always near to us, and the Holy Spirit is our guide and counsellor along the way.

 

During my grief, I received many words of well-intended “comfort.” Someone sent me a text: “Move on.” This came as a shock. Move on? To where? “Slowly,” I replied.

Moving on implies leaving something behind, getting it over with. Perhaps the only people who think there’s a time limit for grief have never lost a piece of their heart. I do not really want to “move on”—but if I do, I hope I will be moving from being sad and emotional to holding my grief with joy and strength.

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When someone asks, “What happened?” I sigh with weariness. I’m exhausted from going through the whole story, beginning to end, sickness to death. What happened? Death happened. Sickness happened. My response is—nothing. I do not bother to reply. It would be better to say nothing at all.

When someone asks, “How are you?” my canned reply is: “Better” or “Up and down.” At least this question helps me to assess myself and reply honestly about how am I coping. The question, “How are you?” became a steppingstone toward deeper reflective time with God and with myself.

But when a classmate ended her words of condolences with the words, “no need to reply,” I welcomed them with relief. I sensed her empathy. She must have known how tiring it was to respond to every word of sympathy and inquiry. These words told me that she understood I needed to be silent.

Silence is often the best response we can give to one another.

Henri Nouwen wisely observed: “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.”[i]

My godmother comforted me with: “No words.”

I appreciated a friend’s, “We do not know what to say.”

A grieving friend wrote: “When you do not know what to say, please say nothing.”

Benjamin Allen said, “When someone says, ‘There are no words…’ it is there I will find them and we will meet in the silent language of grief.”[ii]

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Amen. 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 (NASB)

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[i] Henri Nouwen. Out of Solitude: Three Meditations of the Christian Life. (Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 2004).

[ii] Benjamin Scott Allen. Out of the Ashes: Healing in the Afterloss. (Reno: Senssoma Publishing, 2014).

Where is God when it hurts?

Question… If you were to wake one day and all that you have were taken from you in an instant: all your possessions, your wealth and even your children, how would you respond? If you were left with nothing but pain and suffering, physical, mental, emotional torture in your soul, what would you do? If you believe in God, what would you say about him? What would you say to him?

Job is a Biblical character known for his great suffering sandwiched between his two great periods of prosperity. (See Job 1:1-5; 42:10-16) He started very wealthy. He had lots of animals and servants. He died at 140 – an old man full of days. He was greatest of all men in the east. Why? Aside from his great external resources, he had great internal values.

He was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil.” (1:1) Job was first and foremost described as a good man. He had great integrity. There was no guilt in him. He believed in God and because of his belief, he did not want to do anything wrong to offend God. He even made daily sacrifices for all his ten children – saying perhaps they have ‘sinned and cursed God in their hearts.’ (1:5)

So what started his suffering? Who started it? It all started when God ‘bragged’ about Job to Satan: Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.  Well, of course he is good – you have blessed him so much. Take away everything. He ‘will surely curse You to Your face.’ 

This was the first challenge. God ‘allowed’ Satan to test Job. (1:12) “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” `

What happened then? Long story short, in a day, no more oxen and donkeys; dead sheep and camels… and last but not the least, goodbye sons and daughters! (see 1:13-18)

What did Job do? Job stood up, tore his clothes and shaved his head. That was the custom of their day when one is in mourning. He fell to the ground and worshiped. What did he say?

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

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What was the challenge again? Take away everything from him and he will surely curse you to your face! Ding! Round one goes to God. Job did not curse God. He blessed God. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God. (1:22)

Job did not sin. Curse God – that is the sin. How about blame God? Surely, God caused his trouble. To blame is to ‘ascribe unseemliness to’ (NASB footnote). To blame is to credit responsibility for something wrong. Yes, God was responsible for it. He allowed Satan to take away all that Job had. (1:12) Job blessed God because he knew one truth: He came into the world with nothing. When he dies, he takes nothing to the grave. All that he had came from God. If God is the one who gave, he also has the right to take away. There is no wrong in that.

Job knew his God. The God who gives. He did not know God’s conversation with Satan. He did not hear God said “Only do not put forth your hand on him.” But we do. We need to remember that even in suffering and trials, God extends his mercy.

So here comes round 2 of the challenge: God again praised Job to Satan. (2:3) Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.” Yes, but a man would do anything to save himself. “However, put forth Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh; he will curse You to Your face.” (2:5)

God said “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Again God is merciful.

Then Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.  And he took a potsherd to scrape himself while he was sitting among the ashes.

What happened next? Mrs. Job had something to say to him: Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die (2:9). End your misery!

You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?

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Job was consistent with his knowledge of God. Just as God gives and takes away, God gives both the good and the bad. Another truth to learn.

So here are the two important lessons we can learn from Job’s response to sufferings.

Our Being

In suffering, we need to remember our being. We came into the world in our birthday suit. When we leave this world, we take nothing with us.

Our God

Our life begins and ends with nothing. Everything in between comes from God. Through this lens comes a different view to suffering. Just as God allows suffering, he extends his mercy. Suffering does end.

Our World

The reality of the world is that it is filled with both good and bad. It started very good. God created all things good. Sin came into the world because of man’s disobedience – because of the desire to be like God. God in his mercy still made animal covering for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. God in his mercy sent His Son Jesus to die for our sins. There is so much evil in the world, so much suffering because of so many bad things sinful men do. Man has a choice to do good or do evil. God allows it.

Shall we accept good from God and not adversity? This lens helped Job in his suffering. God is in control. He gives and he takes away. He gives good and he allows evil. He allows evil and he extends mercy. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Where is God when it hurts? He is with me in my suffering. He loves me. He loves you too.

 

Musings on Father’s Day

Sights and sounds of papa…

One of my early visions of papa is of him carrying my school bag to put beside my seat when I was in elementary. I believe he’s the only father doing that until middle grades. I’m a girl so I didn’t get teased being a papa’s girl.

He often took us for regular dental visits as the dentist was his good friend. I attribute my love for teeth-brushing (I have a set of toothbrush and toothpaste in every bag I have.) to his influence – seeing to it that my teeth were well-maintained. He also had the habit of brushing after every meal. Even when we ate at restaurants, he’d go gargle and decline offers to eat more saying he’s already cleaned his teeth. He also had a dentist for a god daughter. He’d refer her to his friends to be their dentist. I will never forget how anxious he was when I had my impacted wisdom tooth extraction. It took more than 3 hours and she had to saw the tooth into small pieces in those days when dental equipments were not that advanced.

In my early school years, he drove us (my mom, sis and me) to and from school in his beetle. We’d go to Luneta and seaside along Roxas Boulevard – in the Chinese embassy across Manila Bay to take in the sea breeze and see the sunset. Then in high school, we moved to live near the school so we’d just walk to school. First day of college, he accompanied me to Rizal Ave to teach me to commute to De La Salle University. One time there was big rain and the streets were flooded along Rizal Avenue, he hailed a calesa and waited for me at the jeepney stop so I would not have to wade the flood to go home.

When I got married and went home to visit, he would open the door for me like a true gentleman. When my kids went to school, he often picked them up from school for me – Hannah and Abigail were blessed to have guakong take them from school. He would bring Hannah to look at the rabbit in the neighbour’s place when she was small.

When he was in his 80’s and no longer as active, he never failed to thank me for going to visit him. ‘Toh sia di lai’ (Hokkien for Thank you for visiting me.) His appreciation for the food I bring never failed to touch me. (_______ yah hoh chia. – _______ is delicious.)

He often inquired about Andrew and my in-laws: Andrew, tah-queh, tah kwah, ho seh o? (Andrew, your mom-in-law, dad-in-law, how are they?) His favourite question to ask: Kui tiam? What time is it? He’s nearly blind so he cannot see the red digital clock placed in front of his bed. He’d often remind me to eat – not to let myself go hungry.

One time I went to visit and I was sad and pouring out my problems to him. He said: Kang papa kong. Papa tue dih ki toh. (Tell it all to papa. Papa will pray for you.) Papa, I miss u so much.

All these stories about my father… remind me of our paradoxical heavenly Father.

My dad loved to talk – and tell stories. He’s a friendly chatty person. So here’s a talkative guy married a hard-of-hearing wife. My mom was hard of hearing. She had hearing aids. Yet that did not stop them from communicating. Even as he was talkative in younger days, he was quiet and reflective in old age. One time I asked him – pa, what are you thinking? He said many things. He was contented to lie quietly in his bed. He did not get old and senile. He was mentally active and lucid each time I talk with him. His mind as sharp to remember many details of friends of long ago. His mental health, happy contented disposition are all God’s grace and mercy.

When he was sick, he was not afraid to show me his fears. I remember his shaky hands as we climbed 5 floors of stairs after his prostate surgery in his 70’s. When he was 92, his whole body shook when he remembered his fall going to the bathroom, he refused to get up from the bed. After praying, he said he’s no longer afraid.

Bravery is not the absence of fear. It is learned through overcoming fear – in the hard circumstances of life.
Falling so many times, blind and near totally blind, walking through with maids (small and seemingly not strong) leading him; each step… I learned what true courage and resilience is all about. It made me sad to see him weak and frail yet it touched me no end to see him strong and brave.

Another paradox:
Grieving, loving, hurting, suffering = the more you love, the more hurtful/painful, yet love compels…
Papa’s resilience, contentment = no complaint, easy to please, allowing mom to go on trips. Sleeping alone.. he’s alright with it coz he knew mom always returns. Even though they did not talk that much anymore, the presence counts a lot. After mom passed, papa knew she’s no longer beside him or sitting in her chair in the living room.. grieving yet not saying it out.. how hard it must be for him. So hard to pray and be joyful in his presence, when inside, my heart is sad and burdened – how to care for him, how to comfort him, how to pray and say mama is happy and healthy in heaven when here he is on earth, alone, and weak and frail, cannot see, cannot move freely.. how?

Regrets, what-ifs, if-only (sana/dapat)
What if we didn’t install the peg? What if we just let him starve, will that be easier on him?
If only we know it will come to pneumonia n kidney failure, if only we didn’t install the peg, if only…
What is the fine line between holding on and letting go? Between loving, not wanting him to suffer, and doing our best to help him, yet in some ways – prolonging his sufferings..

Lessons I learned:
1) To love is to endure pain
2) Life is a journey of sufferings
3) No use in regret, and remember the good times, the memories of our conversation when he was still healthy
4) How to pray: Lord have mercy, Your will be done. We lament, we submit. We plead for mercy. We trust and obey.
5) How to be content, to be grateful (thank u to small things, for caregiver), to be positive (good morning, fine), to say/remember good things about people, to be brave.

All these memories and lessons from my father – the only one I have and I thank you, Lord for papa..

Till we meet again, pa I love u and miss you always.

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How to pray when there is sin

If I were the senior pastor and my pastoral team all got themselves wives who were unbelievers, going against God’s wishes, would I rend my clothes, pull out my hair in frustration, sit in utter humiliation on the ground? That’s exactly what Ezra did! He was devastated. (Ezra 9:3 HCSB).

His prayer of confession is one good example – how to go to God in humble contrition, sincere and open confession of their sins. See Ezra 9:4-15.

1) His humiliation before the people: Ezra’s appearance and response drew people with the same sentiments to gather around him in mourning. His outward appearance portrayed what he felt inside – disappointment and frustration.. v.4-5
2) His shame and embarrassment before his God: More than being humiliated outside towards all the people, Ezra told God: “I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift my face to You.” V.6a
3) Confession: He confessed the extent of their iniquities – how serious they offended God. V.6b
4) Consequences of their sins: He knew that their sins led to their rightful consequences of being in captivity, killed, in shame and brought into slavery, subjects of their enemies. V.7
5) God’s grace: Ezra acknowledged that even in their captivity, God extended His grace – leaving them a remnant of people – (did not wipe them out of the map!); giving them favor with their foreign rulers that they were even given permission to go repair God’s temple! V. 8-9
6) Their sinful response: Ezra described in full details how they repaid God’s goodness – with disobedience by intermarrying with foreign people – practicing idolatry – being unfaithful to God who’s been so faithful to them! V.10-12
7) God’s righteousness: Ezra said ‘We deserve this punishment. You are merciful – because you’ve ‘punished us less than our sins deserve’. You are right to be angry with us. We are guilty yet you spare us – letting us survive and stand in your presence. V.13-15

Application: How often do I disobey God – going against His wishes in willful rebellion? And when the consequences of my wrongs come, how do I respond? Do I wonder – how can this happen to me if God loves me? Let me evaluate myself and realize that God is still gracious and merciful – he punishes less than what I deserve. In grace, God has given me a new life and light. V.8 He has not abandoned me. V. 9. There is hope in His righteous anger, because I can approach His throne of grace to confess my sins and He always forgives.

God’s forgiveness does not spare us from the consequences of our sins. The people sinned by marrying foreign women who do not know God. They went against God’s commandments to worship idols of their foreign wives who did not know God. They were called to turn from their sins by leaving their wives and their children. How sad but necessary. God forgives when we return to him to true repentance. We need to leave our sins and stop sinning. Bad and sad consequences of sin cannot be reversed. We need to learn from these mistakes. Get up and sin no more.

This is the way of true prayer of confession and contrition. Turn from sin and sin no more.

The Good and the Trouble

In the Bible records the shortest argument between a husband in crisis and his wife. What is it? The wife started it. The argument started with a question from the wife and ended with another one from the husband.

What kind of argument is that? No conclusion? Isn’t it just like what most arguments between husband and wife are like? It is definitely not.

Wife: “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

Husband: “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (Job 2:10)

Background: Mr. Job had everything and everyone in his family (except his wife) taken from him in one day. God allowed Satan to do so. Read Job 1. On another day, God gave permission for Satan to inflict Job with painful sores from head to foot. That started the wife talking. Read Job 2.

Job said something profound after all that’s happened to him.  Job 1:21-22:

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

   and naked I will depart.

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;

   may the name of the Lord be praised.”

22 In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

The first statement showed us Job knew of two realities of life: man comes into the world butt naked and leaves it with ‘nothing.’ The second statement acknowledged that everything comes from the Lord and He has the choice to take everything away as well.

I learned a greater lesson: that both good and trouble come from God. Yes, Job did not sin by charging God for any wrong. (1:22) This means Job did not believe that it was wrong of God to do such a thing to him. In fact, he acknowledged that God had a hand in the disaster that came upon him. More than that, he had the insight to know that just as he accepted the blessings and good things in life from God, he also needed to accept the bad stuff as well. He accepted whatever God gave him because God is sovereign in his eyes.

A man of integrity he was! Such a foolish wife indeed – who told her husband to give up his integrity. She would rather that her husband die so long as she had someone to blame – to vent her anger on.

Job was a man of integrity loyal and true to his God to the end. His acceptance of God’s plan for his life was unwavering.

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