Danny’s Flashlight

Light of the world, a lamp in the dark, a city set on a hill.. These words remind me of my friend, Danny. When? When he was fighting and dying of cancer… How? Let me share an excerpt of the eulogy I wrote for him some 10 months ago.

On 4/9, Danny said: I’m stable but in pain. feels like a dog w/ sharp teeth biting my right chest n wont let go. I’m surviving thru much prayers esp at night I cant lie down. God is good. He makes me sleep when I’m exhausted. I’m truly thankful for that.

From 5/25-27: Scan results out, no good. He said: God knows what’s next. Don’t worry. I’m totally at peace. Pray for less pain. I don’t want my family to be affected when I whine or cry in pain. Thanks. I cannot explain the peace that I feel now.
“it’s not as bad as it sounds. God is good no matter how this progresses. I’m totally at peace. No worries. Thank you for prayers.”
“Let’s hope the med works. God is good. I’m not a bit worried.”

8/25, “I’m not afraid to go. I just ask God for another chance to share w others how good He’s been to me.”

Danny’s words testified that in all things (good n bad) God is good. He loved God and was devoted to Him amidst hardship. He loved people. He was dying and still thinking of God and neighbor. He wanted to donate whatever useful organs he’s got left. He asked for more time even in great pain to tell his stories.

Danny taught me lessons on dying bravely and living brightly even in the deep dark pit of pain. God enabled him to be a light shining in the valley of the shadow of death.

God took him first even though he was the youngest in our barkada. He was strongest when he was weakest because God’s grace was sufficient. Danny shone brightest when it was darkest because God was his light. Today, his voice resonates loudly because God’s Word was the only voice he heard and held on to. His life mirrored his Savior and Lord Jesus.

Today, Danny still speaks to me. Yesterday, his wife told me Danny gave me permission to share his stories whenever possible so people will know his God of grace. I miss Danny often especially when I have questions about the Bible, about things to write, ideas to share. He was a deep thinker, great teacher and fine writer. He’s witty, funny, silly, naughty and many more. Most of all, he’s my friend who loved me and whom I loved dearly. Tears falling as I write these words.

Around 1am today, I woke and could not get back to sleep. I watched some video clips on FB and chanced upon the Red Table Talk of Jada Pinkett Smith with the parents of Ms. USA who committed suicide earlier this year. Near the end of the talk, Jada shared her grief story about losing a dear friend. My takeaway from her lesson: Memories of our loved ones who passed on may fade. One sure thing remains: love.

How true the words from the Bible:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

A Lighthouse in the Storm

When in the storm, when shipwrecked, when hungry, when in danger, what would you do? What did Paul do? He encouraged other people.

Read Acts 27. Paul was on a boat going to Rome – to be handed over to Caesar – to be tried as a prisoner. They had been sailing for quite sometime already. Then the weather turned bad. Paul warned them that “our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion – the one in charge of Paul and fellow prisoners would not listen and followed the words of the captain and owner of the ship instead.

So they were shipwrecked. All the people in the boat were getting hopeless and hungry. What did Paul do? He encouraged them:

22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me.

What an encouragement! To encourage others when – even when he needed encouragement himself. Paul could encourage others because he was encouraged by God. His close relationship with God and his firm sense of calling and deep commitment to the gospel compel him to not give up – to embolden others – even as he was strengthened by the God who called him.

When life is not easy, we too can be like Paul. We too have God who calls to us – Do not be afraid. We can emulate Paul and personalise his story into our own situation:

Do not be afraid, Marlene. You must (fill in the blanks with the things that discourage me, things that i must do for which I need courage, trials I must face for which only God’s grace can see me through). Think about what God has graciously done for me in the past.

And think how I am going to encourage others with the encouragement that I get from the Lord. And ponder upon how I am going to comfort others with the comfort that I receive from the Lord.

This my friend is the way of a follower of Jesus – to be an encourager in the storms of life.

Grace in the Big C

Growing in Grace

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. –2 Corinthians 4:16

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.

“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.

Gritty and Resilient

Resilience: the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. This brings to mind the scenes of Tom and Jerry stretching and compressing and returning back to their original shapes after being pulled and pressed. Is it not true that cartoon characters amuse us with their ability to get back to their original shape after being squished and squashed; pulled and pushed around?

Resilience: the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity. This brings to mind the scenes of Tom and Jerry stretching and compressing and returning back to their original shapes after being pulled and pressed. Is it not true that cartoon characters amuse us with their ability to get back to their original shape after being squished and squashed; pulled and pushed around?

In the real world, to be resilient is to be able to get back on your feet after being struck down. It is the capacity to withstand a difficult situation and recover quickly from it.

The resilience of the Filipino people is best seen in the aftermath of Yolanda – the super typhoon that struck the Philippines leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless. It is amazing to listen to the stories of the survivors what they believe and how they cope in the aftermath of the storm.

We learn resilience from Biblical heroes. Job is number 1 in the list in terms of sufferings. The secret to Job’s resilience is his perspective on suffering. He knew his origin and his destination (Job 1:21). He came into this world with nothing and he can take nothing with him when he dies. He acknowledged everything he had is from the Lord (Job 1:21, 2:10). The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Shall we accept good from the Lord and not trouble?

Job’s faith enabled him to accept both the good and the bad. He sees both sides of the coin: his coming and leaving; God’s giving and taking. A resilient person sees God behind all the good and the bad.

Joseph’s resilience is seen in his journey from being favored son to hated brother to favored servant to accused prisoner to trusted prime minister of all Egypt… from the pit to the prison to the palace. In his story, there was not a mention of him griping and complaining. His brothers sold him into slavery. He did not sit in the mire cursing his brothers. He just made do with each circumstance the best he could.

God granted him favor in the sight of Potiphar. Joseph became his trusted servant. When Potiphar’s wife enticed him to sin, Joseph’s main concern that he could not do this evil and sin against the Lord. He was imprisoned for something he did not do.

In prison, God granted him favor with the warden. Joseph again helped his fellow prisoners interpret their dreams. The fellow prisoner he helped forgot about him. When opportunities came for him to avenge himself, he showed kindness to his brothers. The key to all these is his forgiving spirit. It was sad and painful to have his brothers betray him. Yet he did not let his grief turned to bitter anger. He focused on doing best he could under each circumstance. He refused to remain in the pit. A resilient person forgives the wrongs done against him.

David’s Psalms exemplified his resilience. His psalms of lament and of praise narrate his grief, his fears and his praise in the midst of trouble. He was kind to his enemies. He did not kill Saul who wanted him dead even when there was more than 1 opportunity for him to do so. He was kind to Shimei who cursed him (2 Sam. 16, 19). He also prayed for God to avenge him with his enemies. A resilient person is realistic and optimistic. David realized his sad and dangerous circumstances yet he is always sure God would turn things around for him.

危机 means crisis. The first word means danger. The 2nd is opportunity. This Chinese phrase wisely interprets that there is an opportunity in every problem. Jacob’s resilience is manifested in his encounter with his father-in-law. He wisely made use of the opportunities presented to him even when his father-in-law time and again took advantage of him. Joseph turned his prison experience into an adventure to help his fellow prisoners. This eventually got him out of jail to interpret dreams for Pharoah. David used opportunities to show Saul his loyalty by sparing his life again and again. A resilient person makes good use of opportunities in times of crisis.

I was surprised when a friend said I am resilient. How? She referred to my journey as a daughter-in-law who did not bear a son to carry on the family name. Perhaps she empathized with me the challenges of being married to an only son born to traditionally conservative Chinese parents. Perhaps my phlegmatic personality inclined me towards resilience.

One thing I know I learned that God wants me to focus on what I have and not on what I do not have. I do not have a son but I have three precious beautiful daughters – who are diligent in their studies and responsibilities. They love me and love each other. I miscarried my first child – a boy. For many years, I envied mothers tagging little boys along or mothers with big tall lads to do for them what boys supposedly do better than girls. God showed me that girls can carry heavy loads just as well.

I observed that my resilience is best seen when I lick my wounds and forgive. It is useless to remain angry and sulky after fighting with hubby. It is wise to heed the biblical teaching: Do not let the sun go down on your anger. More than just passive forgiveness, I learn from Jesus that active forgiveness is washing the feet of the people who kick him – the disciple who betrayed him, who denied him and who doubted him. Resilience is stretching the limits… going beyond what is normal.

I recall the power stretching sessions with my physical therapist. Stretching is not my fave to do at the gym. Dancing is much more fun. Yet stretching allows me to go on to dancing. After my ankle surgery, I could not put weight on my foot for almost 3 months. In my first session at therapy, the PT stretched my foot with all her might. Through the past 7 months, my foot got better because of the stretching exercises I had. My PT often asked ‘Mam, can I stretch some more?’ I would say: “Stop.” As time passed, I learned to let him stretch a bit more before saying stop. I distract myself with my phone and text and even FB – things that I like to do so that discomfort of stretching is not as visible.

Resilience is about elasticity. It is about being pliable – adaptable to all shapes and sizes of circumstances – realities in life. God is our master therapist. He knows our limits. He will not let us go beyond what we can bear. He equips as he calls. He enables us to be resilient to each twist and turn in life’s journey. He allows difficult circumstances to mold and shape us into his image – to be holy as he is holy; to love as he loves; to be patient as he is patient; to forgive as he forgives.

To be a resilient person by God’s grace and mercy is to journey with the boundless and timeless Creator – to go beyond our imagination and what we think we are capable of. Because our God is infinite – beyond limits and without boundaries, we can be resilient in trust and obedience and be pliable in the Potter’s hands.

Don’t Give Up

作事该有始有终 (that’s what mama often said – finish what you started.)

There’s a similar Chinese proverb: 半途而废. (Giving up midway and putting to waste all that’s been done.)

There once was a man who went away to study. But after a year, he missed his wife so much he returned home. His wife took her scissors and cut through the silk in the loom she had spent months weaving. ‘Studying is like working on the loom, daily work towards a goal. If you give up halfway, it is like cutting this silk in half – all efforts for nothing.’

The lesson in the story is what Paul taught in the following verse:
Galatians 6:9
New International Version
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

If I give up, what will I be reaping anything good? If I give up, will there be any harvest at all? Will I become weary? Yes, I will. It is a human limitation.

Even the great prophet Elijah asked to die after getting so tired and afraid when Queen Jezebel sought to kill him. But God provided and protected Elijah. He fed and comforted Elijah. He sent the ravens and He sent the angel to take care of Elijah. God’s providence and provision enabled Elijah to finish his work till the Lord took him away. God’s provision included a successor for Elijah. Elisha continued Elijah’s work.

God’s work is never thwarted. He is the Alpha and Omega. He finishes what He started. He will enable me to finish as well. Thank you, Lord.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal. 6:10).