Groaning in the Shadows

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.                           –Romans 8:22–28

I cry easily. I cry when I watch dramas on TV or in movie houses. I cry when I see people cry. In Tagalog, we call it ‘mababaw ang luha’ (shallow tears that easily overflow).

On the day of my mother’s funeral, I remember crying, “Mama… Mama…” as I stood beside her coffin. I didn’t care that my cries were loud and long, but then I had to stop crying, because it was time for the cremation to begin.

After my mom died, I did not have much time to cry, because I was too anxious for my father, who was ninety-two, was blind on one eye and almost blind on the other. He did not have an appetite. It was a constant struggle of anxiety and stress to feed him.

Because I did not know how to deal with my grief, I had a hard time comforting my father. As I sat by his sick bed, I often did not know how to pray. So I would pray, “Lord, have mercy.” (wishing for God to take him so his suffering would end.)

Although I’m thankful that Mama is now in heaven, where there is no pain, sorrow, or sickness, I could not pray this thought with my father. I thought – how good this was for mom, but how hard it was for dad. Whenever I prayed with him, I felt even more grieved when I opened my eyes and saw tears in my father’s eyes. I thought my prayers had made him cry, and so I prayed silently, “Lord, please take him to eternal rest, to be with Mama, where there will be no more pain, no more sorrow, no more tears.”

I tried talking with him about the past, about details from his younger days. In our talk, I could not speak much of my mom or their times together. I worried these memories would make my father sad. And so I grieved in silence with him, crying silently, grateful that he could not see my tears.

On the last day that I visited Papa at home, I sat in Mama’s favorite chair and cried like a baby. I cried, “Mama… Papa…” over and over again. The nurse was in the next room with Papa, who was asleep. As I stood by his bedside, he spoke his last word to me, “Mama…,” but he could not continue because he was having a hard time breathing. “Mama is resting,” I told him.

After my father died, I stood with my daughter, Hannah, by his body. As the mortician combed his hair and brushed his coat, I touched his cold hands and cried, “Papa… Papa..” I had to hold back my crying because it was time for him to be transferred to the coffin.

At the funeral, as I took one last look at Papa, I cried again, “Papa… Papa…” My whole body shook as tears ran down my face. But then I had to stop crying because it was time to close the coffin.

One morning, as I reviewed the eulogy I had written for Papa, tears flowed again. My husband woke and heard my sniffles. “Are you crying?” he asked. I gave a muffled answer and wiped away the tears.

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I used to think I was ‘mababaw luha’ because I was emotionally weak and full of self-pity. So I learned to be strong and held back my tears.

I remember the times of my deep depression when I could not cry at all. It was horrible. I am reminded that tears are a blessing.

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In the Gospel of John, Scripture says: Jesus wept (John 11:35). Jesus cried in public with Mary. Jesus grieved with Mary for the loss of her brother and his friend, Lazarus. Though Jesus wept in solitude in the garden of Gethsemane, he also wept in the crowd alongside Mary. His last cry on the cross that God, his father had forsaken him is the ultimate example of the greatest grief possible.

When I feel hurt or sad, crying relieves me. Once, after my husband and I had a big argument, I went to see the movie Phantom of the Opera, and after immersing myself in the story and crying through the movie, I went home feeling much better.

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Now I cry often both in joy and in grief. Tears fill my eyes as I remember the past with gratitude—not regrets, but fond memories. Tears clear my eyes so I can live the present with faith. Tears rejuvenate my heart so I can receive the future with hope, trusting that in all things, both good and bad, God is working for my good. He makes us right with him so that in all seasons, we will reflect his glory.

My journey through the darkness reminds me of the paradoxes of God, who gives joy in times of grief and enables me to smile even as he allows me to cry. In the despair of death, he teaches me the hope of new life. As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And one day, I shall surely dwell in the house of the Lord forever, where I shall see Papa and Mama again.

Until my last breath, when God will wipe every tear from my eyes, I know my journey with tears will continue. On that day, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

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Lord, help me remember that you have called me to become a mirror of your glory. Help me to glorify you by praising you for all things, even in dark times. Help me to cling to you and to trust in your goodness and love as I seek to live in obedience to your will. 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.

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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When the bad and the sad linger…

I have learned and am still learning that God allows many challenges to go on in my life until I learn my lessons from them. One example is my dh (domestic helper) issue. For more than half of my life, the ‘tiny’ (not so tiny at times) thorn in my side is anxiety about maids. Not that I no longer have dh concerns but I no longer fret as much. I learned through the years that God wants me to depend on him. God let me witnessed how he provided just in time (many times) when I let go and let God. I also learned patience – in forgiveness for their wrongs and in persistence to teach them right.

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Another reason for enduring and persevering in trials and difficulties is so I can be a credible witness and companion to the people going through similar circumstances. I testify to how God embraced me when I was going through cancer treatment. Friends with the big ‘C’ know I speak from my own experiences. I can empathize with people going through depression. I share my weaknesses with those who are going through midlife crisis. I know how it was to experience ‘the dark night of the soul.’

Ultimately, one truth I hang on to when the road is long and the way is dark, God will see me through. He is behind me, beside me, over me and in front of me leading me to the light.05d2c8cdb39ba3607276b88cf94c2d7e--godly-quotes-bible-quotes

Are you tired and weary going through difficult times? Hang on and hold tight. Hold on with faith, walk on in hope and hang on to the love of God which is beyond what we can imagine.