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A life of gratitude is a life well-celebrated

Last week, I was reminded of how faithful God is and how faithless we truly are. I was rushing to work one morning because I overslept and was, subsequently, late. I didn’t get the chance to eat breakfast or stop by the nearest Starbucks for a turkey, egg and cheese muffin. On top of that, I was worrying about some debt that I needed to settle — since my budget was not adding up – and my struggling wardrobe. I couldn’t remember the last time I shopped for some new clothes.

When I arrived to the office, I made a beeline for my desk. I turned on my computer, logged on and began to sort through my e-mail. At some point, I looked up and noticed that one of the editors had walked in. She had a million (or so it seemed) bags in her hands. She placed them on a nearby table and began to unload.

I observed the contents from the bag closely and noticed that there were boxes of donuts, bagels, fruit containers, two tubs of cream cheese, cookies and plastic utensils. Somebody asked her what the occasion was and she simply replied, “A celebration of life.” She called us all over to help ourselves.

My stomach growled as if it were offering a nod of approval. I silently thanked God and rushed over. I grabbed a bagel and some fruit, and thanked this generous colleague of mine. She nodded and said, “I couldn’t have let the day pass without doing something wonderful. Three years ago, on this exact day, I completed my last chemotherapy. I have been cancer-free since.” I was at a loss for words as I looked into her misty eyes. She continued, “God has been generous to me so it’s only right that I be generous to you guys.” “That is really kind of you,” I responded.

Back at my desk, I mused about the beginning of my day. I had been fretting about unimportant things when God has said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25). How easily do I forget! How easily we forget!

In the Book of Matthew (chapter 14) is a riveting account of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 people. They were hungry, but Jesus saw an opportunity to use their physical need as an illustration of a deeper longing in their souls. He multiplied five loaves of bread and two fishes to cater to the multitude. But first, He gave thanks.

Everyone ate till they were full and there were even left overs! Not only was this seemingly impossible feat a miracle; it was also a testament of what God can do when our resources — time, money, talents, efforts — are limited. The disciples saw the task as a challenge and could not fathom the outcome, but Jesus showed them that anything was possible through Him. He also showed them, unbeknownst to them, that He was indeed the “bread of life,” sufficient enough to fulfill our inner hunger:

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” John 6:35

Hence, life is more than food and clothes. It is valuable, yet fragile. We can be here today and gone tomorrow after one bad accident or diagnosis. But thank God for His grace. Thank God that was not how the story ended for my ever appreciating co-worker. And thank God she was mindful of and grateful for that. Not because she brought food for me to eat, but because I was reminded, yet again, of God’s providence.

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What to Expect When One is no Longer Expecting

I have a sensitive spot in my heart for couples dealing with the loss –any loss really — of a baby. It’s just the way I have been wired. And it’s also one of the many ways I can relate because my husband and I have dealt with the same loss.

After nine weeks of pregnancy, all my hopes and dreams for a beautiful, healthy boy and/or girl vanished. The embryo was growing in the wrong place. Instead of implanting itself to the wall of my uterus, the fertilized egg stalled in my fallopian tube and began to develop rapidly. It was the most painful experience ever, physically and emotionally. After my laparascopic procedure, in which they removed the pregnancy and ruptured tube (the left one to be exact), the nurse said to me, “There was a heartbeat. The procedure went well.”

A heartbeat is an indication of life. A pregnancy is a blessing. Giving birth is a miracle. You can’t imagine how it feels for a woman to not receive such a blessing from God, to not be given an opportunity to participate in a miracle and celebrate bringing life into this world. You.really.can’t.imagine.what.it’s.like.to.feel.inadequate!

I will never forget what that nurse said and how it made me feel. I felt like God got lazy when He “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” It was as if He missed the part of creation where He was supposed to fix the signals in my brain that should have instructed the fertilized ovum to leave its comfort zone and seek refuge in the “promised land” that is my womb. As far as I was concerned, the doctors were better at repairing than He was at preventing (don’t judge me for my inaccurate and flawed human reasoning).

miscarriage

In the years following my loss, it was tough being happy for expectant moms, particularly those close to me. But over time, it got easier to genuinely feel happy with them. It was the only way I could truly recover and be myself again if not better.

Even though it is natural to have feelings of resentment while grieving, I refused to be oppressed by my emotions. I was determined to feel without reacting; to heal without re-hatching. I can’t say I didn’t slip up a few times. As much as I tried to “be still and know that He is the Lord” through prayer after prayer, I got tested…a lot.

It angered me when people would come up to me and say things like, “You’re not pregnant yet? What are you waiting for?” Their insensitive probing always prompted me into throwing a mental pity party.

It especially hurt when friends and loved ones would offer unsolicited advice on what I needed to do to get pregnant. And to add insult to injury, some of them had the nerve to blatantly inform me that I was either with the wrong guy or I must have done something to upset God.

I know they were genuinely trying to help (or were they?), but the pressure was unnecessary because all it did was make me feel all the more incompetent. Why couldn’t I get pregnant the way everyone else did? Why must I drink a cup of apple cider vinegar diluted in water or a concoction of herbs brewed as tea? Why must I get weekly massages and acupuncture treatments or take fertility pills hailing all the way from some immaculate science lab in London?

All I needed everyone to do was to treat me the way they did before my loss: NORMAL.

I was tired of wearing the label of “woman who lost her baby,” looking into the eyes of pity and lending an ear to cliches (“it’ll happen when you least expect it”) and divine conspiracy theories (“God has something better for you”). Yeah, I lost a baby and yeah, it hurts. However, I don’t want my name to be synonymous to infertility or cursed or forgotten; I want to be treated as a woman simply standing in the motherhood line waiting to hear the Giver of Life shout “Next!” because He sees me, wants to bless me and let me know He remembered me.

That is all I ask. That is all any woman (or man) dealing with loss wants.

In the Book of Romans, apostle Paul instructed the Christians in Rome to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (vs.12:15). Nowhere in that Scripture does it state to rejoice for or to weep for. Perhaps it is because you can easily make the situation about you if your heart is not in sync with a person. But when you are able to fully relate to someone (not through circumstances but through oneness with Christ), you are demonstrating a unity of mind, sympathy and tender heart.

Anyone can applaud for you even if they are not genuinely happy for you, but not every one can dim their light and celebrate with you. And anyone can give you a sympathy card even if they are not genuinely sad for you, but not every one can put aside their agendas and spend a few hours crying and praying with you.

Therefore, don’t feel sorry for couples dealing with a loss of a baby; feel sorry with them. In other words, put yourself in their shoes — even if it doesn’t fit — and act accordingly.

 

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The Power Struggle

Image  I believe every moment in life is teachable and if you pay close attention, you might learn a great lesson from God.

I went to the beach on Memorial Day with my siblings, cousins and their kids. The oldest of the children wanted to wade in the water, so I took him to the shoreline. He stood in the ocean, a few feet away from the sand and puffed up his chest as if he was Zeus (or maybe a Power Ranger). A small wave came and knocked him down. He got up, clearly upset and embarrassed, and made a fist. He started chastising and punching the water for “attacking” him. I tried not to laugh because I could tell his five-year-old ego had taken a hit. But when the waves knocked him down again, I couldn’t help it. He was not amused. I told him, “Listen, the water is a force to be reckoned with. Why don’t you just enjoy it instead of fighting it?”

He did not care for my words of wisdom so he walked away and went to build a sandcastle with his brother.

I thought about what had just transpired and it occurred to me that I have been where my nephew has been many times. I’ve been knocked down by life and I have gotten back up only to wave my fist at the “Giver of Life.” How dare you embarrass me and not cooperate with my efforts? Each time, I could hear Him cautioning me: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you (1 Peter 5:6).

But sometimes it wasn’t enough to help me overcome my shortcomings. Sometimes I’d walk away (blatantly ignoring God) and preoccupy myself with something I knew I was good at – something that made me feel like I was in control.

Everyone likes control — some to a higher degree than others — even children as young as my nephew. Control makes us feel mighty and powerful, and unfortunately, self-reliant. Control is a symptom of pride and a recipe for destruction.

King Solomon warned, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). Apostle Peter quipped, “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

David received favor when he went into battle with Goliath. He did not use his own strength. He relied on God’s power by recognizing that he was nothing without Him.

Jacob had to learn this lesson the hard way. Jacob really thought he was something. He was smart in his own eyes as he earned his keep by scheming people such as his twin brother, Esau. However, when he learned that Esau was out to get him, Jacob fled for his life. He was so afraid to return home that he finally turned to God in prayer.

According to the passage, Jacob struggled all night with an angel, who biblical scholars believe was a manifestation of Christ in angelic form before his incarnation. This “struggle” between Jacob and the angel was an aggressive form of prayer, not a physical act of violence. The angel commanded Jacob to stop holding on to him, but Jacob replied “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:27). It is important to note that this statement was Jacob’s declaration of faith and deep humility.

When the angel saw that Jacob would not let go, he touched Jacob’s thigh removing it out of joint. The pain should have thwarted Jacob, but instead it made him fight (pray) harder. Finally, the angel blessed Jacob and changed his name to Israel.

Jacob’s name meant “supplanter or to hold the heel.” His parents gave him that name because he came out of his mother’s womb holding his twin brother’s heel which metaphorically implied that he would always fall behind in life.

Nevertheless, since Esau was firstborn, it meant that he would receive the birthright, which was a very important and sacred thing in those days. It wasn’t just a transfer of physical assets; it was a spiritual honor. It’s no wonder Jacob schemed his brother into selling his birthright. And he was proud of it.

This did not please God because Jacob did not act according to His will. It was not until Jacob was truly remorseful for tricking his brother and fought hard to be in right standing with God that he was given the desires of his heart; blessings and honor, hence his new name, Israel, which means “who prevails with God.”

Isn’t that what we all want at the end of the day? Favor, blessings and a new name (identity) from God? Life will always push us to our own devices when we want things to go our way as opposed to God’s. But when we humble ourselves before the Giver of Life, we can prevail through failures, shame and frustration, and be lifted up.