Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Exhausted of Being a Martha

It took an article from an online magazine to bring the point home. I was really tired and stressed. And ninety percent of it was self-induced! Being a new wife and mother, a missions mobilizer in church, a member of two Bible study groups, a full-time office worker, a freelance writer, and an on-call youth resource speaker were much too much for my two hands to handle. But even with these many hats already on my head, I was still intent on adding more caps and berets until I became a leaning tower of responsibilities. One more addition, and I am ready to fall from sheer exhaustion.

This being missions month at our church, I barely held my head up the water so that activities and appointments would not drown me. If I had my way, I wouldn’t stop until I drop. So, in His grace, God intervened this week and forced me to slow down. It had to take my six-month old baby boy’s fever, the effect of his latest vaccination, to keep me home over the weekend. At first I was anxious at the thought of not being in church to coordinate the Volunteers for Missions lunch fellowship. I constantly thought of the missions class facilitators meeting I missed. And I kept wondering who would arrange the display tables of the missions booths? But then I realized that the world would keep spinning even if I stayed home. The worship service would still go on without me. The missions class and fellowship would still bless people even if someone else coordinated them. And most of all, God was still very much in control even if I took time off to rest and be with my son.

I realized, too, how little time I had spent with my husband lately. For two weeks Mang had been asking me, “Bun, can I take you out on a date? Can you check your calendar and see when I could have dinner with you?” I laughed and didn’t take him seriously at that time. I simply told him that I’ll cook dinner for him at home, that way we could save on time, gas, and money. I reasoned that we had two evening Bible study groups scheduled to meet that week and I had several after-office meetings for my high school reunion and my book project. Indirectly, I was telling my husband that I had no time for him.

Once again, God intervened. One of the key people I was to see that week contracted conjunctivitis. The meeting was cancelled. Then, we received a letter from our travel agent telling us of a crisis concerning Mang’s temporary residence visa in the Philippines. Being a foreigner, Mang had to address the problem immediately. But being missionaries, we had to look up to God for His guidance and provisions. In an unplanned and unexpected way, Mang, I and our baby, Lian Ed, took an evening off and leisurely drove around the nearby university’s grounds to unwind. We parked near the athletic oval lined with huge acacia trees, carpeted by freshly cut grass, and roofed by the starry sky. There, we sang some hymns and talked to God and to each other as Lian Ed gulped milk from his feeding bottle.

But most of all, I realized that I failed to choose the most important thing in this life—to enjoy God. My hurried pace, long to-do-list, and tight schedule cost me the precious time to sit at Jesus’ feet, to listen to Him through my Bible reading, and to talk to Him through prayer. Everyday, the same thing happens—I get out of bed, skip breakfast, get dressed, kiss my boys goodbye and rush to the office. And though the office staff starts each day with devotions and prayer, I feel a strong tug in my heart to go into a secret place and spend time alone with the Father. Often, the day simply ends with guilt but the cycle repeats the next day.

I noticed that my lack of fellowship with God led to a clouded perspective on life. I complained more and thanked God less. I worried more and sang less. I criticized people more and appreciated them less. I argued with my husband more and prayed with him less. I got impatient with my son more and enjoyed him less. I frowned more and smiled less.

Somehow, I think, I understand why Jesus told Martha that her sister Mary had chosen the best thing by simply sitting at the feet of Jesus. Martha busied herself and expected her to lend a hand. Martha resented Mary’s inactivity and told Jesus to reprimand her sister for not helping. It was surprising how Jesus responded, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42, NCV)

Martha and Mary’s story taught me that I can choose how to live my life. There are more important things to which I should devote my time and energy. Often, I get drained by the less essential issues and when the more important concerns come, I have no more strength to address them. There will always be needs pressing me on all sides but I should discern which of those are what God wants me to prioritize. He will not require me to do beyond what He has enabled me to do. There would be times when I simply have to say “no” to what may be urgent in order to say “yes” to what really matters. I need not be an anxious, stressed and exhausted Martha if only I can be a Mary who will deliberately sit at Jesus’ feet and learn from Him who invites, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest…you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28 & 29c, NASB).

I’m glad that God orders my stops in unexpected ways. If he didn’t, I would have just kept going and harmed myself in the process. I’m thankful that God’s ways are not my ways and that His plans are always for my good. Just like any loving father would, God is quick to step in and pull me back when I’ve reached my limit and hold me in His arms until I find rest. (written in October 2004)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Passport Saga #1: Desperate!

I was desperate! All I could do was cry. Even my devotions this morning didn’t seem to help prepare me for the latest crisis. Just before leaving the house for the Indian Embassy, I found out that my passport holder containing my passport and PIO (15-year visa) card was missing. After several frantic minutes of looking in the house and phoning my friend who drove for me the day I possibly lost my passport, I realized it was really nowhere to be found. It wouldn’t have been so tragic if it were not for the fact that my family and I are due to leave for India in less than three weeks. This means that even if I have the money and the necessary requirements to secure new travel documents, I don’t have enough time to acquire them.

I sat in the dining hall and sobbed. I didn’t know whether to be angry or whether to feel sorry for myself for all the stress I have gone through this week, especially since my husband is out of the country on a business trip. I had a series of tension-filled experiences and this was the clincher, I thought.

“Mama,” my little girl called out from the living room. “Mama,” a gentle stroke on my hand accompanied the soft voice. Himig, my three-year old daughter, was trying her best to comfort me. When I looked up, my tears were streaming uncontrollably down my face. I forced a smile and looked at the little inquiring face before me. “Mama, stop crying. Just go!” I felt as though I was slapped on the face! I must have looked awful and distraught that only the simplicity of a child’s faith could transcend the anxieties and fears. My myopic spiritual eyes could only see the tragedy but my daughter’s pure faith enabled her to look at the triumph that lies ahead. I gathered myself and set out to do the needful.

I went to my husband’s office (next door) to check if I had left my passport holder there during “doing-without-thinking” moments. To my dismay, it was not there. I then took a cab and went to the seminary where I teach to check my office in the faculty lounge. It was still nowhere in sight.

Feeling so helpless, I slumped on my office chair, laid my head on my table and sobbed. My heart sank in despair. Things were beyond my control. I surrendered.

I finally prayed. I realized this should have been my first recourse rather than last. But I opted to operate on my own wisdom and strength, beginning with a frantic search. Slowly, hesitantly, in between sobs, I bared my heart to God. Confessing my frustrations over the week’s less than ideal situations, the pressure of facing crisis upon crisis without my husband, the inability to find a solution to problems, I finally admitted that I could not do anything. It was time for God to take over. Not long after I started emptying myself of my load, I felt God lovingly embracing me. In that room, I suddenly felt I was no longer alone. Hope started to fill my heart, washing away the desperation. Peace started to come, easing out the anxieties. Love started to envelope me, casting away fear. It was then that I realized, all throughout the frantic search, God had just been waiting for me to come to Him. He was waiting to speak to me about my situation. I was too preoccupied to even notice. I was too desperate to listen.

Passport Saga #2: It’s Not About Me

In a gentle yet powerful way, God lovingly rebuked me. The lost passport holder was perhaps a way for the Lord to get my attention. He knew too well that only something as serious as losing my passport and visa card three weeks before my family’s trip to India will get my attention these days. Honestly, I regret not paying attention to Him much earlier. I regret that I had to go through a harrowing week culminating in this crisis before I took God’s invitation to be with him seriously.

I knew deep in my heart that He has been calling. He had wanted to meet me, to speak to me. He would wake me up in the wee hours with a thought of reading my Bible. But laziness got the better of me. Sleep was good. Thus, I lost the best to the good.

This morning God got my full attention, all right! But it had come to a point of desperation first. I’m regretfully embarrassed.

“And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask,” God was speaking through the book of Ruth chapter three verse eleven.

“Really? You will do for me all I ask?” I was unsure for I have sinned against my Father.

“And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask,” God assured me.

“Lord,” I wept. “Deliver me!”

My Heavenly Father waited until I could put words into my feelings and utter them in between sobs.

“I’m desperate, Lord! Please bring my passport and visa card back! I don’t want to get new documents. Please do a miracle and give them back to me. And please deliver me from all the stress and anxieties I’ve been having…unpaid bills, the Indian trip…there’s just so much I couldn’t take anymore. Please deliver me! And please, I want my husband!”

“All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character,” a response I didn’t expect as I read Ruth 3:11.

“What Lord?” I don’t exactly feel like I am woman of noble character or anywhere near such a person!”

“He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22),” God’s response jumped out from the inspirational desk calendar right in front of me.

“Lord, seriously, this isn’t me at all. I don’t see myself as a good thing nor a favor to my husband at this very moment. I have been failing I almost everything lately—at home, with the kids as a mother, and now the passport and visa which my husband have entrusted to my care while he’s away.* You can’t be serious in calling me a good thing, a favor to my husband.”

“It’s not about you.”

“What Lord?”

“It’s not about you. It is I. It is I who caused you to be a woman of noble character. It is I who gave Mang a wife. It is I who gave him a good gift. It is I who gave him favor. It is not and can never be by your strength that you can become all these. It is still because of Me, by My grace and love that you are the woman that you are and the wife that you are to Mang. It is not about you. It never was and never will be.”

“Forgive me, Lord, for my pride. All this time I did things on my own wisdom and strength. And I’ve reached the end of my supply of strength. My hoard of resources has depleted and I have no more to give. That is why I am in despair. I had been proud in thinking that I am the woman behind my man’s success; that without me life would be difficult for him. I was praising You for my achievements at home, at work, in the ministry, in my marriage. But all that was lip service. You saw right through me that at the core of my being was hubris! I was boasting. It was all about me. I was terribly mistaken. I am so sorry. Forgive me, Lord.”

The phone rang. “Hi, Bun.” Mang’s voice sounded so crisp and clear. I was afraid to tell the truth but I had to. “How are you?”

“I’m not okay. I lost my passport and visa card,” I sobbed before I could finish what I wanted to say.

“It’s okay, Bun. Don’t worry. God knows where it is. We will find it,” Mang did not say anything hurtful. He just encouraged me and promised to call again.

My mobile phone let off an alarm signaling a message: Bun, let’s continue to search but we leave the matter to God. He knows what’s going on and He will work everything out for His own glory. Love you.

As soon as I read Mang’s SMS I realized that God had given one of the things I had just asked of Him: my husband. He may have been physically far but he was closer than I could ever wanted. I replied: Thanks. As I prayed I asked God for deliverance and I asked Him for you. Then you called. God answered. I’m now at peace. He will do as He pleases for His glory.

“Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For [I] will not rest until the matter is settled today (Ruth 3:18),” God had the last word for the day. After all, it is about Him.

* Mang is on a ministry trip as I write this.

Passport Saga #3: Certainty amidst Uncertainty

It took some amount of losing and dying to self for me to understand what it means to be peaceful in the midst of insecurity.

The loss of my passport and visa card became a gateway to a whole new journey with God. For the past two days He has been undeniably present. I felt His nearness and reality. Not only was He comforting me, He was also guiding me. The whole experience took my faith to a higher level. The whole experience taught me several significant lessons.

Being Still, Listening to God

First, I learned to sit still, pray and listen to God. I used to pray frantically. My prayers were like placing orders at a fastfood counter. I asked for a combo meal of the usual petitions—provisions for needs, good health, traveling mercies. But I never went beyond the menu board of needs to check what was the dish of the day. As a result, I have failed to listen to God many times, thereby, missing His blessings and guidance. No wonder I come away from praying still anxious and heavily laden. The loss of my travel documents forced me to literally sit, pray and listen to God. As I cried in desperation, I emptied my heart to God, freeing it from fears and worries. God replied through the Bible in Ruth chapter three. God’s Word gave me the courage to ask specifically what my heart desired (my passport’s retrieval) and to claim the answer. God, through the Holy Spirit, also spoke in my heart. Very clearly the Spirit impressed on me that the whole ordeal was not about me. It was happening so that God would be glorified in the end. I left my prayer room with a lighter heart, a better countenance and a stronger faith.

The Bigger Scene

Second, the loss of my passport was a small part of a bigger battle scene. My husband, Mang, was away on a ministry trip in a place where there is tremendous need for the Gospel of Jesus. I’ve always known that whenever he goes to these places unexplainable trials come my way. During the ten-day period that he was away, I hurdled one challenge after another at home, in church and at work. I was physically and emotionally exhausted. By the time I discovered the loss of my passport, I’ve lost my hoard of strength. I broke down and cried. I surrendered. But just like one of my favorite hymns says:

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater

To added affliction He addeth His mercy

To multiplied trials His multiplied peace.

As I prayed, God gave me Ruth 3:18: Wait my daughter, for he won’t rest until the matter is settled today. In another translation the verse reads: Just be patient and don’t worry about what will happen. He won’t rest until everything is settled today! These words gave me immeasurable hope. It showed me a God who is actively at work as I patiently wait! I realized that God was working on my behalf. It gave me the confidence that I shall yet retrieve my passport and God will not tarry in keeping His promise. I simply had to yield because the battle was not mine but His.

After reading and re-reading Ruth 3:18, it dawned on me that something was indeed happening in the spiritual realm that was beyond me. It was a battle that had to be won in the realms that are beyond my human comprehension. That is why God needed to make me understand that I had to let go and He had to take over. The Spirit’s silent witness in my heart assured me that it had to do with the ministry that my husband was engaged in and that as his wife, I was a partaker in all that it entailed. Furthermore, we were preparing for a monumental spiritual event for the Dousel clan in India this December. No wonder the enemy has been trying his best to keep us from going. This whole passport saga was a spiritual battle in as much as it was physical and emotional in nature. God was determined to settle it and win it on my behalf for His glory.

Practicing God’s Presence

Practicing God’s presence was the third lesson I learned through this ordeal. While waiting for my turn at the police station to file a report of my lost passport, I had time to read the last chapter of the book I was reading. It was a book on prayer. The whole chapter was devoted on what it meant to live in God’s presence. It explained the reality and practicality of practicing the presence of God. I had encountered this phrase six years ago as a young wife and a new mother. My mentor introduced to me the need to practice the presence of God but left me enough space to figure it out for myself.

Practicing the presence of God was a concept originally conceived by Brother Lawrence, a cook in a seventeenth-century monastery in France.* The practice of God’s presence to this monk meant communing with God as he washed the dishes and served food to his fellow monks. The glow of God’s presence gave his mundane kitchen duties richness and significance.

It is this discipline that I once again re-learned as I sat in front of the police officer. And it was perhaps due to my courageous attempt to practice the presence of God that gave me favor in the eyes of the authorities that sped up the process.

God’s presence was also evident in the person of my friend, Cherry, who volunteered to drive for me the whole day. She kept me company and gave me courage to face what the rest of the day can still throw at me.

I felt the reality of God’s presence when later in the afternoon He brought my husband safely home. Mang’s arrival was like a healing balm that soothed my aches and pains. His nearness was like a tangible expression of God’s presence.

If Only I Ask

Another thing I learned is that many people are more than willing to intercede for me if I only ask them. Thanks to a social networking site, I was able to place a prayer request, sending so many friends all over the world on their knees on my behalf. My husband’s officemates, my family and friends near and far were united in prayer and in extending help in the retrieval of my passport (friends in media placed announcements on the radio). It amazed me to see how God answers in a mighty way when His people unite in prayer.

The Miracle: The Lost Passport Found

This event taught me so many things but I would like to end this sharing with the word miracle. I realized that I still believe in miracles. I started this day with reading Mark 10:27: There are some things that people cannot do, but God can do anything. Another version reads: With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God. The loss of my passport and the promises from God’s word brought me back to the days of my childhood when I was awed by God’s miracles in the Bible. I felt as though I became like a child again with faith that can move mountains. I was like a little girl once again, looking up to heaven in eagerness to see God’s next miracle.

Cherry and I picked up Mang who just flew in from his international ministry trip. We decided to proceed to the Indian Embassy instead of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The staff at the Embassy informed us that I had to go through the whole process of visa application which meant two weeks processing time and paying Php17,000. Clearly, the trip to India was becoming more and more elusive. There was no way I could get a passport and a visa before our appointed departure.

The silence in the car was almost eerie. It seemed no one dared to talk lest I break down. But I couldn’t contain my overwhelming emotions, “God, You know exactly where my passport is! Please, give it back to me. Please tell the person who found it to return it to me over the weekend. Please, God. Please.”

My desperate prayer enabled me to put a smile on my face. “I hope that if it did fall on the taxi floor…I hope that the taxi driver will just look under his seat and find it there and return it to me.”

“What’s this?” Mang said as he handed to me a black passport holder from the backseat.

“What’s that? That’s yours! You’re just pulling a prank!” I was still faithless.

Mang opened the passport holder and lo and behold, there they were, my passport and visa card! It was indeed mine! I burst into tears. “Thank You, Lord!”

“How did you find it? Where?” Cherry asked. As soon as I talked about finding it under the driver’s seat, Mang bent over to find the edge of my passport holder sticking out from deep under the driver’s seat. We were baffled. Cherry looked for it in her car twice, checking under the seats and found nothing the day we found out I lost it. The thing was, we were together a few days back when I last saw my travel documents. It was possible that I dropped it in her car. But I was puzzled because I was certain that I last saw my passport holder in my bag while we were having dinner in the mall the day I lost it. I didn’t ride with Cherry after dinner. How it came to be under the driver’s seat, is still a mystery to me. All I knew was that God once again did the impossible!

God proved Himself faithful, loving and powerful. Most of all, He once again showed me the reality of His presence. It is true, He was glorified in the end.

* Hybels, Bill. (1998). Too Busy Not to Pray.ybe USA: Intervarsity Press., p. 172.