“I pray that I would still see my Dad…” she started sharing some of personal things that were going on in their family but tears overwhelmed her.  She grabbed a handkerchief but was too slow to cover her eyes as tears went streaming down her cheeks.  We were all quiet as a friend who sat next to her tried to comfort her.

This was just one of the things that was shared during a youth leadership session with 21 young people from our outreach in Norzagaray Hills Village.  Due to the Advisory Council meeting that day, we planned for these young people to come to the office for the meeting in the afternoon.

We went through some initial materials on group dynamics and after our break, proceeded to talk about some more serious stuff.  These young men and women have very difficult backgrounds and I thought it would be more appropriate to begin by addressing the intra-personal issues they may have in relation to how they think God perceives their situations to be.

We went through the material that I had used so many times with the young people in recent years.  It is entitled “Our Thinking Vs  God’s.”  This scripturally-based comparison would help a person understand what he is going through and have a glimpse of how God is looking at the same picture but with His divine perspective.  Many of us are going through our daily grind wondering if God really cares or understands what we go through.  And if He does, why is it that help is so slow in coming?

We went through those individual points and I shared some of my personal testimonies highlighting some of the scriptures.  Then I asked them “how about you?  Which of these thoughts are you entertaining right now?  Where do you need God’s word to be made manifest in your life?”

“I can’t manage..” said one young person.

“I have little faith…” another at the back said

” I am afraid…”

And the rest shared.  I asked some of them to share more according to the level of their comfort, and this young person said “I pray that I would still see my Dad…”

I challenged them to start telling themselves the words of God in their lives. I challenged them to look past the physical things and through the eyes of faith, look at how God is looking at them – not with the strict, let-me-measure-how-right-you-are-doing-your-life kind of a look, but rather, a very compassionate Father who desires to lift us from where we are and take us to where He wants us to be.

When the tears of that young person had subsided, I gathered them in a circle.  We prayed and I lifted their some of the concerns they mentioned:

– a job interview for one of the leaders

– forgiveness and reconciliation between family members for another young person

– provision for the mother of a young person whose health condition seems to be deteriorating

– provision for a medical check-up for one of the leaders

– money for tuition fee for those who will be graduating from highschool

– for all of them to do well in their studies

– for the NHV youth group to really come to an intimate relationship with the Lord.

We sang “Ang Tanging Alay” as our closing prayer.

Thank you Lord for the opportunity to minister to them.  The burdens they carry are too heavy for their young hearts to fully understand.  Give them hope. Give them your peace and your joy.  Let them see Your perspective in the light of Your goodness and grace. Let them all come to Jesus and believe.  Let them know how much You have loved them from the very foundations of this world.  Thank you for taking care of them.   I know that they are special in your sight.  They may be going through difficult times now – but they are like a bruised reed, that you would not break.

I commit all of them in the precious hands of Jesus, who loves them more than anyone else would, and could.

AMEN

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I have been involved with the youth ministry for the past 22 years. It has been a very educational experience, to say the least.

I have been wanting to gather my thoughts and put them in one place so that it would be easily accessible to youth leaders and significant adults who are given the burden to mentor the next generation.

If you feel the call to invest your life on a younger person’s life, then feel free to visit the blog specifically designed for youth mentors and ministry leaders.

Feel free to visit this blog:

http://mentoringjoshua.blogspot.com

See you!  Together let us make an eternal investment by investing our lives on the next generation.

Psalm 23 remains to be the most popular chapter in the Bible.  The psalmist’s way of declaring himself as one who is in need of a shepherd echoes universal pathos of dependence and at times helplessness.

We are like sheep in many ways.  We need to be taken to a safe place so we can drink freely.  We get scared by so many things and without a shepherd to guide us, we will just be following the next sheep or person ahead of us.

Sheeps are direction-less. And in many ways, so are we.

The most poignant of this Psalm is toward the end :  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”

Walking through the valley.  This could picture still having some semblance of strength to walk through it.  Maybe the remaining strength is no longer enough for you to run through it, thereby escaping all the associated fears of the moment.  But the psalmist declares “even when I walk…”

Many times in our lives – when we go through our difficulties – it can be likened to a a very slow walk.  You are moving to a certain extent, but the pace could really kill you from anxiety.  But I think the action described here is not merely poetic.  Because in the real sense, when difficulties arise, the pace could be so fast that many times it feels like a rug has been yanked from under your feet.

You walk.  This shows the daily walking, breathing, living along with the trial that surround you.  You go through the valley.  It could be dark – and the surrounding mountains are too high to be scaled upon by whatever measure of strength left in your body.  So you walk. One step at a time.

You see shadows and these shadows may actually point you to the light or may keep you from seeing the light.  The shadow is all around you as you walk through the valley.

What is the valley of death that you are walking on right now?

A failed marriage perhaps. A lost opportunity for love?  Health concerns that seem to keep on coming back?  A family dispute that will take you nowhere? A financial meltdown?  Death in the family and you wonder how you would ever cope without this precious life to love you?  Failed and lost dreams?  These and more are shadows as you walk through the valley.

Of death.

But the psalmist does not end there.  He bravely declares, “I will fear no evil… For you are with me…”

I will not fear.  This signifies decision that has been made from the most resolute part of the heart.

I will not fear, not because I can command the shadows to go away.

I will not fear, not because I have the strength to walk through the darkness.

I will not fear is a statement based on the confidence of who he is walking with.

And this is our secret.  We go through the shadows. We walk through the valley and many times, the shadows hide the precipitous cliffs and difficult traverse.

But we do not go through it alone.

We never go through it alone, and this is what the psalmist is highlighting for us.

For You our Lord, is with me.  Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

So hang on dear friends.  The Lord knows exactly where you are, right under the shadows, painfully walking through the valley. He has been there. He knows how it feels like – and because He has gone through it – we are never alone as we traverse this valley filled with shadows of the unknown.

Friends may walk with you for awhile. Brothers and sisters may even grow weary of lifting you up. But HE who came down to be like us, will never leave you hanging. He will never leave you to drown in your fears.

As you walk – He is walking with you.

May you ever experience the loving, tender,compassionate and healing presence of the Lord as you go through the shadows of the valley of death.

In Jesus’ name.

AMEN

” Would I Be Enough?”

January 7, 2009

Driving home late one evening, about 2 weeks before Christmas 2008, I felt a stirring within me.  I was having a quiet driving conversation with the Lord and I was telling the Lord how Christmas has become a season for self-centeredness and consumerism.

How it was easy to lose the real reason of the season when the preparation of the heart involves looking at physical gifts, expensive gadgets and awesome parties, to name a few.

Since I was talking with the Lord, I asked the Lord what gift He would give me.

I started naming those gadgets I had been salivating for quite some time now:

Xperia – yes Lord, that is such a nice phone and wow all the features are really good.

OMNIA – wow Lord that is also nice..

iPhone – that one too… wow just one of those cool nifty gadgets and I knew it would be a real awesome break!

But then I felt the Lord asking me a question:  ” If I were to come wrapped in a present, WOULD I BE ENOUGH AS A GIFT?”

There was a pause.  “Am I Enough?”

The following morning, I shared this conversation with Wifey over breakfast. It was a very powerful reminder that the real reason for the season is not those cool laptops, cellphones, parties etc… the real reason is JESUS HIMSELF.  He is the gift.

Little did I know that when the Lord asked me that question, He was already preparing me or giving me what I would need as we experienced what I have called “the bleakest period” of my life in recent years.

The huge problem is still not over.  I can already begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I was asked by a friend how I was doing and that simple question became such a profound question that it literally hurt inside as I tried to answer the simple question.

On the eve of Christmas day, I found myself staring at the horrors of pride and un-forgiveness.  Pride does hurt and makes the righteous fall. Unforgiveness makes one sink deeper than what is imaginable.

I remember driving home with Wifey a little past midnight… with tears literally blinding my eyes.  And as I drove, I heard the question “Am I Enough? Am I enough?” being asked of me.  It was not asked in a condemnatory way but I knew that answering that question would give me the strength to make it through the deepest valleys.

As each day slowly progressed, as each painful moment was slowly played out – I found myself answering “Yes, you are enough!  Yes, you are enough!

I didn’t want anything else. I didn’t long for the parties and the sumptious dinners.  No I did not want anything else – not even the solution to our dilemma. I only wanted Christ.

On Christmas day, like a bruised reed, I got up from bed and with no schedule for the day, just watched FOX news as they showed the Christmas sermon of Ptr. Rick Warren.  I briefly smiled when he started using Hebrews 11:6, a passage I had used for one of the retreats I had conducted recently.

But what really struck me was when he said ” Do not exert too much energy focusing on the solutions to your problems… focus on WHO HE IS. FOCUS on CHRIST alone…”

It was definitely a message for me.  I was too weak and too hurt to find any solution – and that was the perfect state to just seek Christ alone.  Lord, yes you are enough. You are more than enough!

We are almost there, but not quite.  The other night I felt like I went through an extensive open heart surgery.  It was clearly needed – and the heart can only be healed through such an extensive heart operation.  I even praised God for allowing it to happen.  The “heart stitches” have been done – and in its most fragile state, utmost tenderness must be done to ensure its proper healing in the days to come.

Yes… our healing is on its way.

Yesterday as Wifey and I went to the mall to get some of our groceries, I was very surprised to hear the Christmas songs still being played in the mall.  I missed Christmas.  It all just came and went.  It was a long vacation here in this country – made longer in our anticipation to see the end of what we were going through.

I found myself humming the songs “O Holy Night…”, ‘Come All ye Faithful…”

I was singing again.  My wounded heart is able to sing again – and it was my wife who quietly pointed it out to me when she said “Hubby is singing again…”

I smiled quietly.

Yes Lord… thank you.. You are the only Christmas gift I would ever want in this lifetime.

Lord, you are more than enough.

This news item from South Korea hardly made it to the big broadcasting networks. Even the Asian subsidiaries of these giant networks did not broadcast what has been happening lately to the young people in S.Korea.

Within a span of days, two young popular celebrities have committed suicide.  These were the suicides that got the attention of many in Seoul, but one could only wonder about the many that went un-reported in weeks and in months.

The young people are killing themselves.  And the world was too busy to pay attention.

When young people kill themselves, we must pay serious attention.  We must pause from our daily grind and race and determine what is causing this phenomena in a society that seemed to have been able to rise from so many threats and challenges.

It would be very easy to theologize, pontificat even or just cite reports as to why the young people kill themselves.  But given all these, I think we need to have a fresh look into the lives of these young people.  Celebrity suicides could also give the act celebrity status for the very impressionable ones or worse, disconsolate majority.

How about you? What are your thoughts on the young people and why they are killing themselves?  Have you determined what could be some of your pre-conceived biases or judgment toward the young people?  When young people commit suicide, do you shake your head in disgust and point a blame to the society, their upbringing, their “weaknesses…” or does your heart swell with compassion to the parents and regret that the voice of that young person was not adequately heard soon enough?

Let us pray for the young people in South Korea right now.  No one is noticing that they are going through so much because the whole world is busily just trying to survive.

This blog is from my thoughts after Sgt Beans, our black labrador went through some horrifying ordeal in his doggy life. I could have entitled this blog as it is, but I would rather have the real point come across better than the illustration covering the event.

Sgt Beans developed a swelling in his testicles. It started out just his testicles turning red – and in a couple of days, got really swollen. Alarmed, I sent sms to two of the vets in the area and asked them what could have possibly caused his testicles to swell like that. They only answered “please take him here so we could inspect.”

Undeterred, I asked a veterinary student about Sgt Beans’ condition. He said something about a virus which I checked online, and then got me really scared. The virus could spread even to humans. I sent another sms to our vet and asked if it was possible for my labrador to have contracted such virus, he just simply said, “please come and I will have a look.”

Gave Beans a gentle bath and really avoided bumping his swollen parts. And once dried up, took him to the vet (which was thankfully, less than 5 minutes away).

Dr. Hernandez just got done with an eye operation on a small fuzzy dog, I can’t recall the breed right now. He motioned for us to get inside the room and we did. Beans was his friendly amiable self until Dr. Hernandez asked me to put a muzzle on Beans. I did not even know how to use it. Beans struggled and when I gave him my stern command, he didn’t resist – but I could hear the muffled, resistant groan.

And this was where we heard the first judgment.

“This is the first time I have seen a labrador growl at his master”. Dr Hernandez said. “This has never happened before…” My wife and I didnt say anything at that time but hours after the vet visit, we were able to process how that statement also affected us.

We carried Beans to the metal table. He had stopped struggling ( I thought the muzzle was too small for him…) and Dr. Hernandez inspected Beans’ testicles.

There it was. The wound that got really infected. There was a clear line of broken scrotal sac and it was red and bluish and gory looking. He gave Beans 3 injections and gave us some clear instructions. We were supposed to get him an Elizabethan collar so that he will not be able to lick his wounds especially after the medication has been applied ( 2x a day). But the collar Beans need would be a size 25 and the biggest they had at the clinic was 15.

Off we went. We were just thankful that it was not that virus that was texted to me. Got him some ointment antibiotics, betadine and a regular antibiotics.

The first night, Wifey tried to make an Elizabethan collar that would fit Bean’s neck. I’ve got to hand it to Wifey. She talked with Beans. Gave him pellets as reward until the makeshift elizabethan collar was already around his neck. Perfect.

But we could not staple it together and the cardboard material would bend every time Beans would slump his body on the floor. It wasn’t just working. It was also difficult to put the Betadine on his scrotal wounds because he would just try to get away from me. I was feeling really flustered already but I knew it had to be done.

The following day was a great day. I could see right away that the redness of the swelling has dissipated a bit and his testicles has started to shrink. Not much but it was noticeably smaller than the previous day. And it got easier to apply the Betadine on his testicles and then the antibiotic ointment.

Now he does not even get afraid of the cotton balls and the betadine liquid. The tube of antibiotic is no longer a fearful thing for him. I have actually taught him to raise one of his legs when I would say “raise leg, raise leg” – he would lift his leg a bit to give me room or would allow me to lift his leg so I can put the medication.

Starting the other day, he would just playfully lie on his back and just would allow me to put medication on his testicles. And every time I would apply medication on Beans, I would always hear myself defending Beans from the comments of Dr. Hernandez.

Here are my insights from that comment and the life application that I could glean from.

1. He was in so much pain yet he could not properly communicate it to us.

In a lot of pain, muzzle over his face, pain in his testicles and my dog was being judged for indicating he did not like what was happening to him.

People who are in pain do not necessarily know how to communicate their pain. All they know is that many times, the discomfort is too much that it saps their energies to be engaged in small banter or meaningful discussions about things that do not concern them. And perhaps, many people around them have trivialized their pain – that is why many of them would rather be quiet.

2. He has never worn a muzzle in his whole life and just putting it on a dog would be enough for them to be threaten esp in an environment that they are not used to.

Sometimes unknowingly, we put muzzles over the people who are in pain because we do not know how to draw them out. Or maybe we are already tired and worn out from listening and have entered the compassion fatigue phase. We would rather put a muzzle on them because we could not endure another moment of hearing the same pain rehearsed before our ears. We just do not want to be affected anymore – thus their pain becomes theirs to bear alone, even when we are in their company.

3. If you have swollen body parts, the last thing you would want is to have someone closely inspect it and poke it. And yes, the medications? They may be good for him, but they do sting. Sometime people just wipe you with medications without really caring if it stings or not.

I remember during one of my Masteral classes in Counseling, our professor reminded us that ” you will know the counseling theories and you will know how to apply them. I hope that even you will not be so good as to just rip a person’s mask off without even hearing it rip.”

We can get to be too clinical when addressing their pain.

Or there are times when we become too spiritual that, as we address their wounds, they feel judged as well.

In helping people deal with their most private pain, we may know what is good for them or what medications to use. Please be gentle because even the most beneficial medicines do sting early on in the treatment process.

Sgt Beans is healing well. I had just applied Betadine and then the antibiotics on him. He was steady and still as I applied the medication, waiting for me to finish. Once done, I gave the command “House” and he walked straight to his house. Sgt. Beans was not a spoiled dog as my vet had judged him to be. He was simply in a lot of pain that was very difficult for a young, and playful male labrador to deal with.

Next time you are around a person who is in pain? Remember Sgt Beans and be very gentle when you deal with their private pains.

A young friend took off for the United States today. His flight left at 10:30 AM today. I did not get to see him anymore the past couple of days as he was also busy getting his things prepared, being with his family and all the myriad things an overseas worker would need to consider.

I was really glad that he was able to come over and spend the night with us last month. He even cooked dinner at home. After dinner, we drove to a nearby Seattle’s Best for our one-on one, brother to brother talk. When he first got home, I was able to join him and other friends for a dinner. Well he privately sought me out because he needed to get something off his chest. And there at the Seattle’s Best, was our one and only opportunity to have that talk.

It lasted up to almost midnight. The coffee shop was already about to close, but the manager sensed the earnest private conversation taking place and was very careful not to interrupt.

He shared about the all too familiar difficulties of being away from home. Of going through homesickness and feelings of isolation. Of working so hard and wondering if in the end, it was all going to be worth it. We talked about his faith, his challenges, his misguided perception of God’s love for him, his plan to get married next year… it was a great time being with him. I took note of his need to read letters from home when he is far from the signals of any telecommunication networks.

He asked me a question that evening which stayed with me, and perhaps will be one of those questions that will stay for a long time. But this time, I knew the answer to his question. I suspect deep down, he knew the answer as well. But the circumstances in his life distracted him for the most part, in believing the answer to that. The answer to his question while easy to give, is quite challenging to live out. It takes faith. It takes dependence and it takes surrender for one to really experience the deepest grace from the question he asked.

Lord, take care of my younger brother as he set sail for another chapter in his life overseas. The challenges are many and the temptation to get distracted from his relationship with you would be constant. Embrace Him Lord and never let Him go. Remind him that He is your son and that You are fond of him. Protect him Lord from any accidents, any accusations or any untoward incidents that will negatively impact his work and his dreams. Bring my younger brother safely back to us next year. Bless the work of his hands. Thank you for his life. Thank you for his strong sense of responsibility which is becoming un-common among the younger generation. He is trying to live a selfless life for his mom and siblings and niece and nephew. People are counting and relying on him for their financial well-being. Bless his family through him.

Thank you for J.D. I am proud to be one of his mentors and older brothers. I look forward to his return. I entrust his safety and well-being in the hands of Jesus, who loves him more than any of us could.


In the precious name of Your Son,

AMEN