The Thing About Pain

The Thing About Pain

Somebody who barely knows you spoke ill against you? A colleague disappointed you? A friend betrayed your trust? A parent walked out on you? A spouse or lover cheated on you? Believe me, I know that hurts.

But let me tell you something and you have to listen to me.

Pain isn’t everything.

Pain unites us with our humanity. It laces our existence with the reality that people will fail us, that our circumstances cannot always be favorable. It is a reminder that even if we do everything in the manual, some things are beyond our control.

But let me say it again. Pain isn’t everything.

Pain is a cruel master. It consumes us from the intimate recesses of our souls and cuts us up into small bite-size pieces. It crushes every bit of hope we may have and strikes us until we’re down on our knees, crying out in anguish, begging for any form of relief.

For some of us, a painful event that happened years ago continues to assault us to this day. We carry this burden deep within us, nursing it like a tiny bird with a broken wing. I am not in any way underestimating what you have gone through. I’m sure whatever it was, it was awful and terrible. That’s why it’s difficult to just let it go. But please, stay with me here.

There are things more important than pain.

There’s mercy. There’s compassion. There’s forgiveness. There’s peace. There’s restoration. There’s quiet strength flowing from an Infinite Source. There’s everlasting embrace in Everlasting Arms.

When Christ chose to leave His throne to assume the punishment reserved for His obstinate people, do you think He actually expected it wouldn’t hurt? Knowing what was up ahead, Jesus sweated blood in immeasurable agony while praying in Gethsemane. His heart was probably breaking. He had foreseen the betrayal, the false accusations, the humiliation, the abuse, the extreme physical torture. But did He cancel out? No. Because He knew pain isn’t everything.

It wasn’t the nails that held Him to the cross. It was furious love.

To the nameless people who are reading this entry, you may not know this, but I am preaching to myself here. If you can somehow relate to whatever I said above, it is my prayer for you and me that God frees us from the slavery of pain, that He breaks the chains and heals the wounds. If you are currently in a situation wherein you cannot understand why you had to get hurt, I pray that He surrounds you with His comforting gentleness and overtakes you with His love that never fails.

Guard our hearts as we wait on You, Lord. In Jesus’ mighty Name.

What Were You Thinking?

Jesus spoke to me during worship last weekend.

The church was singing Planetshakers’ The Anthem while I stood there trembling in tears. This is what Jesus told me, “While I was there, hanging on that cross, I thought about you. One of us had to suffer and die, and I couldn’t let it be you.”

Thank You, Jesus. Thank You, Jesus. Thank You, Jesus.

Fellowship & Discipleship

Small Group. Discipleship Group. Leadership Group. Cell Group. Life Group. Connect Group. Bible Study Group. (Feel free to add to the list)

Although known by a variety of names, these groups exist for the same purpose and geared towards a mutual goal. And that is to follow Christ together.

But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1: 7)

No one can be a lone ranger Christian. We need encouragement and prayers from other believers who sincerely care about us. Sometimes, we need loving reminders to keep us on the right track. We need friends who will do this Christian walk with us.

This is fellowship. This is sharing lives.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3: 13)

The first time I attended a small group meeting is an event to remember. I was relatively new to the faith while the girls I joined seemed like veteran Christians. There were five of them. They knew their bible, got their memory verses in check, and were discussing (drum roll, please)… eschatology. I wanted to do triple somersaults in the air. I was thinking, “I just got saved and the end times is already on its way, great.”

They were so comfortable talking about faith with each other. They spoke about rapture and tribulation as if these were the most common, most normal subjects chicks talk about alongside fashion, and Hollywood, and the latest diet fad. I have to admit, I winced whenever they said the word “enemy”. The enemy this, the enemy that, the enemy is working extra hard to snatch the souls of mankind. You can probably imagine my level of discomfort sitting there in that white plastic chair.

When all that was said and done, they invited me to next week’s bible study. I could’ve said no, could’ve made up an excuse. Instead, I resorted to the safest non-committal response known to human race – “I’ll try.”

During the week that followed, God spoke to me. He reminded me of how I asked Him for a small group and told me that this small group is His Perfect Choice for me.

So, the next bible study, I was there. This time, the atmosphere was less apocalyptic. I got to meet other ladies belonging to the group who were absent the previous weekend. They were very welcoming, but I still felt like I didn’t belong. I imagined myself as the black sheep of the herd, bleating, “These people have no idea what kind of person I am, what I’ve done in the past, they’d never understand.”

But it was me who didn’t understand who I am in Jesus.

Sharing my experiences and thoughts with the group started as a struggle because I was always fishing for a correct answer, answers that sounded Christian. I found it difficult to own up to my mistakes, let alone admit these to anyone.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8: 1)

No condemnation in Christ. What a beautiful message. When God revealed this to me, I dropped my hypocrisy and watched it shatter. Gradually, I dismantled the wall I put up. I started opening up my heart to my small group. Little by little, I shared with them my weaknesses, my fears, my personal issues. I realized that they weren’t there to judge me based on who I was or who I was pretending to be. I also realized they couldn’t help me unless they knew the things I was going through.

That was when it all made sense.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. (Acts 2: 42)

Two years have passed since my crash course in eschatology and I’m still with the same group. Some members have come and gone while some have chosen to remain. From around 5 members, Jesus more than tripled our number.

Sometime during our first couple of years together, these ladies stopped being people-I-study-the-bible-with and became my soul sisters. If it weren’t for them, I don’t really know how I’d be able to keep the fire burning within me.

We pray for each other. We encourage one another through testimonies or revelations from God. We attend services and worship together. We keep in touch throughout the week via Facebook, text messages, and emails. We go out on coffee, lunch or dinner dates not only to talk about scriptures but also to just hang out and be girls. We can discuss doctrines, parables, prophecies and also movies and clothes, and sometimes, even boys. I laugh with them, I cry with them.

Fellowship is relationship. It must be built on mutual respect, trust, and love. It has to be nurtured. Above all, Jesus must be at the center of it. Otherwise, it will fall apart and come down to nothing.

BELOVED. That’s us. We are chosen, a royal priesthood, women for his own possession, holy and blameless, clothed with righteousness, covered by the blood of the Lamb. We overflow with God’s hurricane love. The same Spirit dwells within us. And through Christ, we are able to give out what we receive. To each other, to our Jerusalems, to our Samarias, and to our Judeas.

On Strength

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)

I carry this in my heart. I hold on to it at times when I am feeling weak or unsure of my footing. I am sharing this today because we sometimes need to be reminded that apart from Christ, we are never strong enough. Let us stop trusting in ourselves and just surrender fully our situations to Him.

He is the Way, the Truth, and the Light. (John 14: 6)

Amen.

No Accidental Minister

A friend and I decided to have dinner at Pancake House, High Street last Wednesday. As always, I picked one of the booths for the comfortable cushioned seats. Nice and comfy. And incredibly orange.

While waiting for our order, I opened my bible to 2 Chronicles 9: 1-12, which is about the the Queen of Sheba seeking the wisdom of Solomon. My companion read the text as well, and we started discussing the passage. We got engrossed in exchanging ideas that we continued our discourse over our steak and spicy chicken meal.

King Solomon gave the queen of Sheba all she desired and asked for; he gave her more than she had brought to him. (2 Chronicles 9: 12)

The above verse really stood out. I remember telling my friend that it reminded me of what Christ did for us, how he gave us life in exchange for our sins and how our good works can never compensate for His gift of salvation. Suddenly, our conversation was all about Jesus. An intense desire to just speak about Him washed over me. I couldn’t stop talking about Him. It was awesome.

After dinner, I excused myself to go to the restroom. And that was when I noticed. There was someone seated right behind me, our backs on each other. He was alone and I could sense youthful angst in him. Given the volume of my voice, I’m certain this person heard everything my friend and I talked about, particularly the part about Christ. I didn’t know he was there. That booth was empty when we arrived. I was too focused on the Word that I didn’t even realize that someone took the table next to ours.

I believe the Holy Spirit put me in that situation, at that exact time and place. Without meaning to, I was able to minister to this stranger, who probably needed to hear about Christ. I smiled to myself, amazed at God’s Ways. He knew I wouldn’t have approached this person nor spoken to him about Christ, so He inspired me to read the Word and to just openly share what the chapter was telling me.

Thank You for sending me, Lord.

For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. (Acts 4:20)

Partyphile Confidential

I wasn’t always like this. Some years ago, the only thing I promoted was the world. I was a supporter of functional saviors, misplaced hopes and appetites, and morally objectionable behavior. Before Christ (B.C.), I was a misguided party girl.

And this is my testimony.

My night life began when I was 18. One evening in January 2004, a handful of my best friends came over and asked if I wanted to go out. Extremely thrilled and playfully curious, I said yes. Back then, Eastwood in Quezon City was the happening spot in the metro, so that was where we headed.

I was overwhelmed by the abundance of bars and clubs at the complex. I felt like I was Alice, sucked into a hypnotic Wonderland. Blinding lights. Sounds at full blast. Girls wearing next to nothing. Men flashing their American sports cars. It was amusing. It was fun. It was my initiation to what I thought was adulthood. No curfew, no care in the world, no nothing. Just me and my friends having the time of our lives. I drank the experience down to the very last drop.

After that one night, clubbing almost instantly became a habit. The once-a-month became once-a-week. I even started calling it a weekly pilgrimage to the clubs. I felt as if I would fall ill if I stayed in on a weekend. Eventually, it turned into an addiction. I would go out more than thrice a week. As long as the clubs were open, I was there. I skipped work, blew entire paychecks on expensive liquor, allowed the night to consume me. I’d leave the house after midnight and would return home by noon. I’d sleep the remainder of the day away and would rise well after nightfall so I could rush to the next big event. At times when my friends were unavailable, I’d still go out alone.

I worshiped the feeling of losing myself in the few hours of euphoric madness. It was like a pill that I took to forget, to escape, to be free. I looked for happiness in all the wrong places. It was my personal golden idol, carved by the malice of my hands.

With all that ungodly merry-making and self-indulgence, I exposed myself to iniquity. I was unguarded and this environment fed my vanity and insecurities. Without even realizing it, I had dropped my moral standards to bare minimum. I began believing that one’s pride was the most important thing in life, it should never be damaged nor threatened. Grave sins did not seem so deadly anymore. I thought I could do whatever I want as long as I played it safe, cleaned up after my mess, and left no evidence. I made several wrong turns, surrounded myself with wrong company, and suffered greatly when these decisions backfired.

Some people hated me. Sometimes, I hated myself.

It went on like that for years.

Until one day, I woke up and the things that I once found exhilarating weren’t as exciting anymore. I went on hiatus for a couple of weeks before deciding to ignore the warning and partying on. I concluded that it was just a classic case of quarter-life crisis, nothing a great night-out wouldn’t cure. I maintained the lifestyle, kept doing things my way.

That was when things started to crack up. I lost things that were valuable to me. I suffered from relational issues and financial breakdown. My career stagnated. Illnesses plagued the household.

I hit rock bottom. And I was miserable. I felt so alone.

It was during that time that I realized how hollow and artificial my happiness was, how exhausted and depleted my rickety heart was. I had been investing in things that were not meant to last. The hole in my soul, which I tried for so long to bandage up, was growing exponentially. All the accumulated shame and guilt that I turned a blind eye to attacked me on all fronts and I was helpless against them. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I did not feel clean. I was massively damaged.

For the first time, perhaps in my entire life, I wanted to go to church. It was my last resort. I had nothing left to lose. My only hope for survival was this Being I did not know, Someone who I wasn’t even sure existed. I remember listening to this song over and over, and crying out, and begging for an answer. I needed to know if He was indeed out there, and if He could hear me.

Now, there was this acquaintance of mine who I knew was God-crazy (and I’m not sorry for calling her that). I phoned her and asked if we could meet up. I don’t know. Maybe I just wanted someone to talk to. Someone outside my social circle who would not find a deep spiritual conversation weird. Or uncool. I still had an image to uphold.

We went out for coffee and I started firing my questions away. Why is this happening? Why am I feeling this and that? Why am I longing for something I don’t even know what? I can’t recall exactly what we talked about, but I remember how she answered each question sincerely without a hint of condemnation or disdain. I noted how collected and serene she seemed. Like I could almost touch that peace and contentment that emanated from her.

Coffee date ended and we agreed to meet another time for dinner.

During this second meeting, I wasted no time in uncorking the self-reproach that I kept bottled up. I told her about some of my darkest secrets, the most disgraceful things I had done, yet she did not seem scandalized nor bothered. She just listened, shared her own B.C. stories whenever appropriate, remained silent at the right moments.

And then, after I had poured my heart out, she introduced me to Jesus.

I was born to a Catholic family, so I had a clear picture of who Jesus was. But the Jesus she told me about seemed different from the Jesus I knew. She sounded as if she had a personal relationship with Him, as if they were childhood friends. I couldn’t wrap my head around that. I had always seen Jesus as good and loving and perfect… but distant. I mean, He’s God and I’m all flesh and blood. Who was I to desire a relationship with Him? I wasn’t worth it. I was okay with the God-subject thing we had going on.

You know how you realize how dirty your hands are when you’re to shake hands with someone neat and tidy, clean as a hound’s tooth? That mortifying feeling. Only in this case, I was faced with the purest hands, making the shame hundreds and thousands times worse. I felt so filthy and unworthy.

But then, this friend told me that no matter how much of a screwup I thought I was, Jesus still thinks I’m whiter than snow. And that He would welcome me home with outstretched arms. Perhaps even come running. She believed that I was there with her because God had called me by name. He planted a seed in my heart to want to get to know Him. It was my appointed time.

But somewhere deep within, I knew she was right.

So, right there, under the roof of Pancake House, High Street, one week night, I received Christ. I was 23.

And as another first in my life, someone stood with me in prayer.

This might sound fantastical, but in the days that followed, my problems solved themselves. Just like that. I excelled in an industry I was new in. Funds flowed in from here and there, most came as a surprise. I met wonderful friends who prayed for me. He surrounded me with goodness and mercy. And he closed the doors that must be shut, and opened the ones that I needed.

Christianity does not promise a storm-free life, but it creates storm-proof people. My faith was tested several times. Sometimes, I struggled. Sometimes, I wrestled. In the end, having Him made all the difference. Heartaches did not seem so bad, failures were not as depressing as they used to be. Whenever I strayed, He’d pull me back. Whenever my grip was loosening, He’d hold my hand tighter. He never let me go. He became my Strength, my Shield, my Provider, my Absolute Everything. All-in-one. He covered me with His everlasting love. And I feel safe, happy, contented, and at peace in it.

I was the disobedient one though. Thus, it took another couple of years before I totally surrendered my life to Jesus. He is Savior, true. But He also is Lord. And if He’s not Lord of all, He’s not Lord at all. Once He took full control, things just got better and I believe He still has a whole lot in store for me.

Each one of His good promises will come to pass.

The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:12-14)

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