When life is hard…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fixer upper – shorts and long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

On Hold…

Fermata

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A fermata [ferˈmaːta] (also known as a hold, pause, colloquially a birdseye or cyclops eye, or as a grand pause when placed on a note or a rest) is a symbol of musical notation indicating that the note should be prolonged beyond its normal duration or note value would indicate.

Ringgggg.. “Hello, may I speak to Mr. X, please?” Operator: “May I put you on hold?” Music comes on for about 5 long minutes or worse, some ad tagline about the company keeps repeating. In life, things are more complicated. A young successful woman having a promising career got pregnant, has a baby, then everything is put on hold while she attends to the 24/7 role of being a mother. When does her career resume? Or will it even pick up where she left it?

In music, the fermata is much more than a rest. In a rest, there is a definite value where music stops for definite number of beats. In a fermata, how much longer it is held is up to the discretion of the performer or conductor. How much time to hold before the music continues is not fixed. When I go on vacation, I know the vacation ends in a week and work resumes after. How about when God puts me on hold for a ministry? Does the music stop? In a fermata, the note is sustained even when the next note is not to be played yet. There seems to be something going on in the music even while on hold.

This brings to mind, the story of the Israelites’ journey: 40 years in the wilderness led by God by a pillar of cloud during the day and pillar of fire at night. They set up camp or pack up depending on when the pillars settle or rise up. It was up to God how long He wanted to put the journey on hold. How did they know when to pack up again? They had to keep their eyes on the pillars. It is interesting that the sign of the fermata is like that of an eye, a reminder that the musician(s) whether choir or orchestra has to focus their attention on the conductor.

Where are you in your life now? Is there a fermata? Do you wish it would be a rest so you know when to move on? How are you holding? Are you struggling with the ‘longer than necessary’ stop? Are you sustaining the note? Sometimes God puts us on hold yet the music does not stop. We need to sustain the music before the fermata. The fermata is there to welcome a grander next phase of the music. Perhaps it might be a change of pace or a transition to another key? We just need to keep our ‘eyes’ on the Conductor. He knows the whole piece from the beginning to the end and every thing in between.

Prayer:

Lord, you are the Giver of life and Sustainer of all things. Your fermata is meant for our good so that music is made all the more majestic and the next beat, next note all the more glorious. Please shine Your light on me that my eyes will see your guiding hands, that I will be alert to the movement of your baton. I trust that You always make all music beautiful in Your perfect time. Amen

Juggling life…

I often feel that life is pulling me in two different directions. Pride and self-pity… Confidence and doubts… security and anxiety… It seems to me like walking on the balance beam. I need to stay in the middle to keep from falling off.

Each time I think of this dilemma, I remember a Chinese song I learned from Youth summer camp at  church. The lyrics are taken from Isaiah 30:20-21.

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The Easy-to-Read version reads: The Lord might give you sorrow and pain like the bread and water you eat every day. But God is your teacher, and he will not continue to hide from you. You will see your teacher with your own eyes. If you wander from the right path, either to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice behind you saying, “You should go this way. Here is the right way.”

Living the blessed life is about staying on the right path – making the right choices. But it is easier said than done. In the world today, it is no longer just black and white. Many things have become grey.  World views and moral values are constantly changing. Aside from external influences, man in his sinful nature constantly struggles with the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. Even Christians are not exempt from this struggle.

God puts me in circumstances to teach me how to walk the balance beam. When I become proud and self-dependent, God gives me lessons of humility. When I am burdened with anxiety, God shows me he is faithful to provide for all I need. Such a fool to be worried and fearful for the what if’s of life that never happened. Indeed, in the midst of adversity and challenges in life, God’s Word is a comfort for those who take time to read and study it. If only we will listen attentively to his voice and obediently follow his call to walk in his path, we will surely stay on the balance beam.

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Which ball do you think will bounce back?

I’d like to add faith to the 5. As a Christian, faith in God is more than a ball that I juggle with. Life’s circumstances often made it seem difficult to keep all the balls up in the air. It is not about which balls will bounce back. It is about having God’s hands juggle the balls with me. Surely, God keeps all the balls up in the air. And even if any falls, it bounces back.

The Choice

Have you answered online personality tests or health-related apps where you are asked to choose from several options for each question? Is it not frustrating sometimes to read through the list and realize that your answer is all of the above or worse… none of the above? 

So my question for the day is.. which is better… to have many choices or to have no choice?

Most of my life, I enjoyed the blessing of one.. one mom, one dad, one sister, one boyfriend until he became my hubby.

I am the one and only daughter-in-law, the one and only sister-in-law, the only a-kim (the wife of your uncle,  the only brother of your mother), and the only a-ee (the sister of your mother). For someone basically an introvert, this is good – life is simple.

From childhood through my teen years, I went to one school. I attended one church: United Evangelical Church of the Uec Phil. When I graduated from high school, I applied at only one university. Imagine if my application was not accepted…

All of the above seem to imply that I had no choice or that I was simply born into it – family, school and church. But as I grow older, life is not as simple. Everyday, I am confronted with choices… decisions to make, even as mundane or trivial as which route to take to go certain places. And I often wish I had less choices to choose from or if only God would just point to me the best option to take to ensure that I would not make the wrong choice.

The paradox of God-given freedom for man to choose is that man is given the wisdom as a rational being to discern what is right and what is wrong. But what is right and what is not has become relative in this world tainted by sin. There is also the issue of good or better, bad or worse.

So my conclusion to my rhetorical question is this: what about The One choice?

I choose to ask God for wisdom and discernment – that through the Holy Spirit I will be enabled to make the right choices that will be pleasing to Him – that will accomplish the purposes to which He calls me.

I remember when I was first diagnosed with cancer, my first thought in prayer was: Lord, if you think that my life on earth has served your purpose, then I am at peace with that.

So each day, each moment, as long as I remember that my life has a purpose, I have a choice to make to obey His command:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

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That is The Choice – the blessing of One for me.

The good and the bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The story of the fried chicken

Recently, I attended the graduation ceremony of my classmates from the Asian Theological Seminary. I’m happy with them and for them – they have hurdled a milestone in their ministry. I am blessed to see them received the rewards for their hard work and diligence.

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I am most touched by the story of the fried chicken. My classmate, in his response speech on behalf of the graduates shared his story of the fried chicken. He talked about the transformation of life, learning and love as a seminary student. I can relate to his point that at some point in the life of the seminary student, he questions: Am I where I’m supposed to be? Is this what God calls me to do?

He illustrated the answer he found with the story of the fried chicken. On the first day of his ethics class, he had only P20 in his pocket. His round trip transport costs P43. To make ends meet, he took 1 ride out of the 3 that he had to make and walk the rest of the way to school. He wanted to save money for his trip home knowing he would be tired after class. On the way, he prayed: Lord, show me your miracle today.

During the class break at 10am, he went to the canteen and smelled the mouth-watering fried chicken to fill up his hunger. He knew that he needed physical food to sustain him through the school day. So he repeated his prayer. At noon, the professor announced to the class that they will stay in the classroom for lunch. So in came the staff from the canteen with lunch of fried chicken – served to everyone in class.

And so when God calls, he confirms and affirms. Where God calls, he provides.

I feel like crying with tears of joy and affirmation because I too experience God’s affirmation in times of doubt.

Question? Did the professor decide on serving lunch to his class before Ryan prayed or after? I’d like to think that God prepared the fried chicken for Ryan even before he prayed for a miracle.

Praise God for stories of fried chickens!