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.

 

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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.

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.

 

 

Stress free and happy

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Hey, do u want to be happy? Do u want to be worry-free? Do u wish for a stress-free life? Let me tell u share with u the formula Paul taught the Philippians. He told them to rejoice ‘always’ – always means good times or bad! Huh? How?
1) In the LORD! Not in success, not in security, not in money, not in fame nor popularity… But in the Lord. 4:4
2) Know that the Lord is near. v.5 He is coming soon. Let us rejoice in hope of this wonderful day.
3) v.6 tells us To worry for nothing, but in everything to pray. How? with a thankful heart, tell God all your requests. Then what? There is a promise from this exercise of worry-free, heart full of gratitude praying to God. Surely, the peace of God which gives us joy will be with us. We will experience His peace which is beyond human comprehension. People will be amazed at how this peace will keep our hearts and our minds steady in joy; steadfast unwavering in our gladness as we abide in Jesus Christ.
4) Another formula to joyful heart is found in v. 8. We are to think good things. The mind that is focused on the true, the honourable, the right, the pure, the lovely, the good repute, the excellent and all that is worthy of praise, surely when my mind is filled with these good things, my heart is filled with joy.
5) Finally, out of the heart, the mouth speaks, the hands acts and the life lives! When I intentionally practice to live a joyful life, the God of peace is mine to enjoy and experience!

Philippians 4
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. 9 The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

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 If’s and When’s of life

What if I get sick… what if a big earthquake strikes… what if I fail to get the job.. What to do when there’s not enough money to pay rent? Where to turn when terror strikes? How to cope when relationship turns sour?

The Bible doesnt tell us a clear-cut answer for each ‘if’ and ‘when’ of life. One thing it tells us – Do not worry about all these things. (See Matthew 6). Instead pray.

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Oh but many of us Christians do that – we pray. When? When the crisis strikes or when we think it is about to happen… when we are at the end of the rope.. when there is nothing else to do… then perhaps prayer works?

Do you know that King Solomon said a prayer for all the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ he could ever imagine in his days.

Read 1 Kings 8 and observe how many of his prayer items started with ‘If’ or ‘When’: all the not good scenarios but harsh realities in life: sin (v.31,46), defeat (v.33), drought (v.35), famine, pestilence, enemies, plague, sickness (v.37), war, etc. Why so? Wasnt he the richest, wisest, most powerful and popular king in the history of Israel? The Bible tells us there was peace and great prosperity during his reign. (1 King 4, 5:4)

Do you know when and where he prayed about the ‘ifs’ and the ‘whens’ – bad things of life? He prayed after he built a great beautiful temple for God. He prayed during the dedication of the temple to God. Not the typical ‘celebrative’ prayer, is it?

Why ‘if’ and when ‘when’? ‘If’ seems to imply ‘might’ or ‘might not’ happen. When is more a matter of ‘when’ – a matter of time. Regardless, Solomon prayed because he was calling on God to be ‘present’ in the temple he built for Him. He recognized how awesome, loving and kind God is (v.23). He realised that God is too big to be contained in the house he built (v.28). Solomon knew the realities of life and living life. He knew of man’s sinful nature. He understood how nature works – drought, famine, sickness are part of life. Solomon understood that man can only live and overcome these challenges by the hand of God. He grasped the importance of having God ‘hear from heaven’ (vv.30,32,34,36,39,43,45), ‘forgive’ (vv.30,34,36,39,50) and ‘maintain the cause’ (v.45,49) of the ‘pray-er’.

So how do we apply this today? How can we follow Solomon’s example?

Today, we can pray like Solomon. We pray for the ‘ifs’ and ‘whens’ – for the not so good even in the midst of prosperity and blessings. It is not being pessimistic or fatalistic. We pray because we beseige God to be with us on earth as He is in heaven. We pray because we need his forgiveness if and when we sin, when we make him sad, when we offend our neighbors. We pray because God alone can maintain our cause. He alone makes the impossible, possible.

We pray each of us knowing the affliction of our own heart: God, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive and act and render to each according to all our ways, whose heart You know, for You alone know the hearts of all the sons of men, that we may fear You all the days of our life. (vv.39-40)

We pray: Hear in heaven Your dwelling place in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name. (v.43) Amen.

may hear your great name