Have you ever experienced this?  Have you ever considered that when you are just about to really throw in the towel and give up, that is when something happens to lift you up?

I have read this somewhere, when I was a lot younger, that the night is at its darkest when dawn is about to break forth…

I remember waking up my boothmate (Booth 1010!) Aaron Bennis at 3 am, during my senior year, just to show him a phenomenon I had never seen before.  I woke up at 3 am (we were located in the Piney Woods of Texas!) and saw a very clear delineated line of darkness and light.  It was the one of the most spectaculars things I have ever seen. It was as if the heavens were a blank slate of black and white.  The edge of  the blackness  – was really at its darkest… or maybe it could have been inherent, or the juxtaposition of darkness and light highlighted the dramatic contrast of each.

It is similar to what we experience from time to time.

A parallel to this is when “God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.”

When we have just given up.  When we have thrown in the towel. When we don’t want to fight anymore and just surrender everything to Him (shredded threads and all…) and suddenly, His mercy is made manifest in our lives.  The mercy and grace is made “perfect” because there is nothing left to distract us.  In our utmost dependence on Him, God’s strength becomes perfect for us.

Recall the experience of Mary crying at the sight of the opened tomb and with just the graveyard clothes left by Jesus.  Consider Mary Magdalene, just waiting for the angry stones thrown at her – just waiting for them to hit her shame-racked body.  Consider the disciples who rowed for about 8 hours through the night, tired, discouraged maybe wondering what was going to happen next – and only to be deathly afraid at the sight of Jesus walking on water.  Consider the widow and her son who prayed as they cooked their last meal and knew that there won’t be any meals afterwards and how they readied themselves to die of hunger…

When you look at the scriptural evidences… it seemed that the night is at its darkest, just when the light is about to break through.

I must admit that I do not want to sound pollyanna-ish about the whole thing. The last thing I would want is to minimize what you are going through. Some of you may have lost your homes due to the recession.  Thousands have lost their jobs and have wiped out their savings and other bank accounts.  I know of a father who lost his precious 2-year old son on Christmas day.  We hear of thousands of OFWs who are facing potential job loss because the world’s economy is running to the ground.

It is very dark right now.

But I submit to you – light is about to break forth.

Never lose hope even if your heart is tired of hoping.

Never stop praying even if every part of your body would like to deny the existence of the ONE who can make all things possible.

And in the words of a well-loved statesman… “Never, never, never quit…”

This is not a hope that is based on the theology of tomorrow – or the incantations of the superstitions.

This hope is firmly grounded on WHO Christ is.

Securely fastened in His unconditional love not just for some, not just for the righteous – but for all of us.

So stop fighting my friend.

Jim Elliot, one of the 5 missionaries killed in the jungles of South America as they tried to evangelize the Auca Indians wrote: ” I open my hands to give what I cannot keep, to gain what I may never lose…”

Open your hands to give all the pain and sorrow that you cannot keep.

Open wide your hands to receive mercy and grace that you in Christ will never lose…”

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.

Serenity Prayer

January 4, 2009

This is my first post for 2009.  The Christmas break is ending soon and it seemed like it just came and went.  Now the Christmas lantern needs to be taken down and other christmas decors need to be put away.  I had barely enjoyed the lights and now it is back to the usual grind.

Let me share with you this Serenity Prayer.

May it usher peace in your hearts during those dark and discouraging moments.  I read this again and again tonight, and the more I did, the more I realize its simplicity and its profundity.

God, grant me the serenity

to accept the things I cannot change,

the courage to change the things I can,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time,

enjoying one moment at a time:

accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;

taking, as Jesus did,

this sinful world as it is,

not as I would have it:

trusting that You will make all things right

if I surrender to your will;

so that I may be reasonably happy in this life

and supremely happy with you  forever in the next.

AMEN

Reinhold Niebuhr

It was the most difficult Christmas.

We stayed at home because our difficulties started on the 23rd.  Because things are not finished yet, I could not divulge the details.  There are still insights to be gained. Events to be carefully prayed for , people to be lifted up and hearts to be mended.

Life is indeed difficult for us.

Everything would remind me of the broken-ness.  My wifey changed the bedsheets and she found me crying as I ran my hands through the very clean and comfortable sheets and pillows.

I let Beans into his dog house and cried again because there are some people who were sleeping that night with much less luxury than the wooden house of my labrador.

We were having a nice and quiet (because we were containing our tears) at Serendra yet I could not fully eat what was in front of me.  Bonifacio High Street was really relaxing because it is a high-end area, yet it was all hollow.  I asked God, how can these beautiful things be hollow?

When there is no peace, even the most beautiful of things become hollow inside.

At almost midnight of Dec 25th, I was doing a conference chat with my 2 sisters ( one is in the Middle east) – and there we were pouring out our hearts as we try to understand and make some sense of what is happening.

I got an email from a yahoogroup formed for my highschool reunion.

A friend I have gotten to know – lost his almost 2-year old son on Christmas day.

Too many heartaches.

Too many tears.

Too many broken families.

Too many hurtful relationships.

I called up my friend.  While my pain was incomprehensible for me, I could only imagine his.

His baby had low blood clotting attribute and the injury he sustained during his fall last monday left no bump or bruises, but it hemorrhaged inside.

His son was taken to the Makati Medical Center and on Christmas morning, was pronounced brain dead.

My friend requested that the machines be left on until the following day.

They scheduled for the machines to be unplugged on December 26th at 9am.  From the hospital, they will proceed straight to the Crematorium.

The past 2 sentences were typed so fast…. but I could only imagine the depths of unimaginable pain that my friend is going through.

December 26th 9am: I offered a quiet prayer for the whole family .

1:30PM – we stopped at Megamall to buy a wedding gift for a very close family friend /almost a brother to us.  As we were having the gift wrapped, I got a text message informing me of the death of a batchmate who attended our highschool reunion last month!

Going through all these events, I don’t know how I still found an even keel to attend that very beautiful and inspiring wedding.  It was such a lovely occasion – but I felt so dead inside as I tried to be happy for couple.

I cannot recall at this time where I got the title of this blog article. Must be in one of my Abuse Counseling books.  There are times when we do not realize how broken we are because we have grown accustomed to what we have. Until we see those broken fragmented parts, made completely manifest in the lives of other people.

We need to see our wholeness – then we can understand the depths of our broken-ness.

And in the image of God, we see our wholeness.

And in the image of God, we understand the depths, the helplessness of our broken-ness apart from Him.

These are trying times and heart-breaking times. But these are hopeful and encouraging times as well.  These are faith-stretching times and times for quietness.  Time to be still not for stillness’ sake.  Time to be still and know that He is Lord – Psalm 46:10

Are you going through the same?

Are tears your constant companion these days?

You are not alone and you will never be.  God can simultaneously handle our broken hearts together!

He sees everyone. He hears every cries. He knows every pain and every injustice ever done to anyone at all time and throughout history.

He knows how broken we are because He has already seen how complete we shall become. – Philippians 1:6

Yesterday morning when I checked my phone for any messages that were sent through the night, there was one message sitting there from one of the youth leaders that I have mentored.  His text said “thanks for prayers. Now I can buy a laptop.”

I smiled at the thought because I have told him a couple of times that I had been praying for a laptop to help him with his seminary studies.  At a Board meeting last month, he even suggested that I need to upgrade this laptop I am using and then simply hand this to him.  I thought it would be feasible, but these hard times call on us to be more frugal.  But I kept praying that God would give him the means to buy his own.

And God did.  He will be buying a similar laptop ( Dell, of course.)

Then yesterday afternoon, I checked my email and there was another encouraging email for me from another young man whom I had taken in as my younger brother.

I was really encouraged by what he wrote as a response to a quick email I sent through my cellphone last week. I was walking in Megamall and chanced to see the place where we had our conversation.  This younger brother was at that time, out of work and I was trying to be helpful when I said “why don’t you try working in a cruise ship?”

Well, he has been working on a cruise ship for more than a year now and I have not heard from him in recent months, and last week at that mall, I suddenly remembered how he was when we last talked.

Over a cup of coffee at Seattles Best in Caltex along SLEX, this young man poured out his heart.  The store was about to close but the manager sensing the sensitivity of our conversation, politely told us that we can stay for a couple of minutes more.

But this email I received yesterday was very different from how he felt as we talked last.  He was full of hope and he was beginning to understand how God has been patiently working in his life. He has grown amazed at the love of Jesus and how in his surrender, the Lord is beginning to transform him especially since he is outside his comfort zone.

He even attached several pictures and one of them showed him practicing with a worship band.  He attends Bible Studies and regular worship services.

I had to smile when he said that he would like to help out at our youth camp as soon as he gets home next year.  And he quickly added “we need to talk right away when I get back…”

It was awesome. His email made me smile and made me teary-eyed at the same time.  I was really grateful that God had not given up on him and how God had allowed him to go through some difficult times (like being mugged and beaten on his birthday last year!)

Thank you Lord for keeping him safe as they travel through the different ports.

Thank you Lord for looking after him and allowing him to benefit from the work of his hands.

Lead him away from any temptations and walk with him God through the discouraging times.

When loneliness sets in because of him being away, surround him with people who will affirm your love toward him.

Thank you for allowing us to have a small part in his life. It is a privilege to have shared a part of his journey with him and we look forward to sharing many more with him.

He ended his email with the usual “gotta go but will keep in touch…”

The last line of his email made my heart swell with joy and pride…

” I love you Kuya…”

Thank you Lord for allowing us to invest our lives on others, and in doing so, you have enriched ours a thousand times over.

Be Still My Soul. . .

June 10, 2008

Be still, my soul, the Lord is on thy side.
With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul, thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as he has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake.
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul, the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul, the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul, when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Music by Jean Sibelius, 1899
(Originally Composed as Finlandia)
Lyrics by Katharina von Schlegel, 1752

That’s how an encouragement feels!  It gives freshness to a tired and weary soul.

I was checking out of my hotel room when I noticed an un-read message on my pocket pc. I smiled as I read what this very encouraging friend from overseas wrote…

“I just finished reading your recent blogs for April. They are truly inspirational and i find it is worth the time reading because i am learning significant ideas on sensitivity to relationship with others.  Through reading your blogs, I am gaining strength and broght me near to the Lord by recognizing that what matters most is “who He is” than “what He can do”. Yes He is a loving God which most of the time i forget that i feel i am abandoned. I also liked the story about Peanuts. Cessna, your childhood dreams, encounter with the japanese diver, etc.  Many thanks. “

Wow. I was humbled by this friend’s email.  What a privilege to share a part of my life with you.  I pray that we will all find our way… and that together someday, we will stand in that great banquet and rejoice with our King!
Thank you my brother. Thank you my friend. May God bless you through and through. Thank you for being a part of my life.