Harsh Realities

Life can be described with adjectives as many as there are Facebook and Twitter users combined. Today, I choose this one: Harsh.

I know that life is not problem-free, but the fact to me is just that: a fact. Nothing more, nothing less. Sure, I experience problems growing up–self-image issues, insecurities, geometry problems, fights with loved ones–but not what I consider as Goliaths and Ondoys comparing to dying of cancer or dealing with your parents’ separation.

It wasn’t until last year when the reality of life’s hardness hit close to home.

Two years ago, one of my Mom’s sisters living in the US, my Tita (aunt) Len informed us that doctors found blockages in the veins of her husband, Monet. The Jarlego family immediately prayed for Tito Mon’s complete healing. Although I felt concern for my uncle’s welfare, I wasn’t too alarmed by his condition since my grandparents (Mom’s parents) also had blockages in their veins and their bodies are perfectly fine–no heart attacks and whatnot. Unfortunately my uncle’s body did not share my sentiments, and after a few weeks, he underwent bypass surgery. The next several months that followed until mid 2011, apparently, my uncle was fine and he and his family lived a “normal” life.

Then life, looking at them, put on his hardest suit and turned their lives around.

Halfway through 2011 (by the way I’m speaking from my perspective, so any news during that time when my uncle experienced something bad that was not disclosed to us by my Tita Len is not included), I heard that Tito Mon had colon cancer.  I shuddered. Colon cancer. Last 2008 our former President Corazon Aquino was diagnosed with the same disease. The following year, she died.

How much time does my Tito have?

And so I prayed all the more–for his healing, the family’s inner strength, provision, everything they needed (or at least what I thought they needed). Sometimes I even reasoned out to God, “Lord, Tito Mon’s such a good person. Please don’t take him away just yet. Please.” Although I haven’t seen him in the last 4 years, my heart went out to him because his heart went out to the people around him. He had a rare and attractive combination of qualities in him: benevolent, God-fearing, tech geek (i.e., he buys the latest gadgets), amazing cook, and a certified foodie–just like my own Dad. Just like my dad, his eldest was (and still is) a beautiful lady (my cousin, Ate Charlene) and two handsome boys, KC & Matt. He married and loved his best friend, my tita Len.

And so I prayed earnestly. I even asked my friends to pray for him. 2011 ended, and he was still fighting. One day in early Feb of this year, I remember having my quiet time before going to school as I usually do every morning. After reading my Bible and writing on my journal, I got down on my knees and prayed for Tito Mon. I was confident he will be healed because, well, I believed God still works miracles. I also thought that Tito Mon was too young to die–anything below 65 is young for me (120 years is our limit, so more than half is, in a sense, “young”). After praying, I stood up and left my room to prepare for my school.

I went to the dining area where my Dad and Mom are. My Mom saw me and called my attention.

“Jenny.”

“Yes Mom?”

“Tito Mon died na.”

What? But I just prayed for him. I just held on to the hope of him recovering and being healthy again and hopefully, someday, bonding with him and our families in their lovely abode. But no, those things aren’t going to happen because he’s gone. As my brother used to say, “Game over na siya.”

And that’s just the beginning of harsh realities. (Thankfully there was a “break” for four months because during my summer Mom and I went to the US to console my Tita Len and my cousins, and to have a meaningful vacay as well. And the events that transpired shall be posted soon.) When July came, life was at us again.

July 7th, Saturday, I hosted Jzone with my cousin, Miko. Two hours before Jzone started, I texted my friends and some cousins a verse (just cause I had an unlimited texting feature on my number for a day). The verse is from Isaiah 41:10:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 

Immediately after one of my cousins got the text, she replied to me. When I read her message, my body shook and I felt so scared for her. After pulling over at the side of Daang Hari road in Alabang, she was held at gunpoint by a group of teenage boys. (You can read her story here) She called me after the incident, and tearfully recounted her story. I prayed with and for her over the phone because it was the only thing I could do–well actually there was nothing I can do and prayer was the only choice because we both knew that God, our good God, was in control.

The following week, another cousin of mine took the fall. Friday evening, some families of our clan huddled in my Tita Jayjay’s house for the weekly Bible study. My Dad, Mom, uncle, and I left at around 11 PM, and as we were heading home, Mom received a message from Tita Amy (mom’s sis; there’s 6 of ’em), saying to tell my Dad to report a certain taxi where my cousin, Rejoice, was hold upped and brought somewhere in Quezon Avenue. Oh Lord not again please. Please keep her safe. (Do read her story here) We were all scared for her. Who wouldn’t be? Thankfully, God was still in control, and He kept her safe.

Then just as I thought life would take a break from all the shiz he’s throwing at our family, he takes one big blow. Another lady cousin of mine (this time living in San Jose, Cali) was confined in the hospital due to extreme abdominal pain (which she had already experienced when we went there last May until first week of June). Apparently, three tumors grew inside her pelvis, and she needed to undergo surgery. But that’s not the worst part.

She acquired Stage 3 ovarian cancer.

It was the C word again. After , Tita Yai (again, Mom’s sister), broke the news to us, I started having this thought in my head: Could I be next Lord? I know it was selfish of me to ask that, but I couldn’t resist asking. 

And right this very moment, as I type this seemingly-pessimistic post (please stay with me; it’s not as sad as it sounds, I promise), 90% of Metro Manila is flooded from as low as 2 feet up to 15 feet!! 😦 #rescuePH  is trending worldwide because of the nanosecond updates on families and people that need rescuing and immediate help. Schools, churches, malls, and even fastfood chains opened up their facilities to accommodate those whose homes were flooded on the inside. According to our “national weatherman,” PAGASA, rains shall continue pouring tomorrow. Every Filipino (especially those in Metro Manila) are calling out for a cease fire for the rain. We just want to see the light of day again.

Life is harsh.  Good things happen to bad people. Bad people are surrounded with influences that help them become worse. Life is harsh. Earthly life, that is. On the other side of the fence is the eternal life, and boy, is it good!

Good, but it doesn’t free you from problems. What makes it good, then? The eternal life is good because its Giver is good. “Good an upright is the LORD….” (Psalm 25:8)  “For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations.” (Psalm 100:5) “The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.” (Psalm 145:9) His thoughts towards you and me are always good and never evil (Jeremiah 29:11). Why does He allow us to experience life’s harsh realities, then, if He is good? To test our faith and make it stronger? To make us better people? Technically these are “correct” answers, but clearly (and experientially), they are not enough; they do not satisfy our desire to really know.  The only answer I can think of right now until I die is this:

I. know. not.

This I do know: Amidst life’s harshness, God is good. Not only is He good, He is trustworthy. He fulfills what He says He will do. I know this because I have experienced this. Last week until yesterday, when I thought that God would punish me because I procrastinated in my school work, He reminded me:

“Be still, and know that I am God. Do not worry, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let Me know your requests. And then My peace, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Me, Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) 

(I’m not saying that wrongdoing does not have any consequences; what I’m saying is that, even as I suffer the consequences of my wrong doing, God still loves me and He even helps me endure and be victorious over the consequences, even those that are not sin-related.)

This quote from a book I’m reading, The Good and Beautiful God, also encouraged me:

He gets the last word. I like that. It renews my mind on the way I look at the world because He is in control. Man never has control of anything (for eternity, that is). Thankfully, God does. 🙂

Here’s the good news: You can be joyful and at peace in the midst of hard times (go back a few lines & reread Philippians 4:6-7). My cousins Deb & Rej both praised God after their traumatizing experiences (if you haven’t read their stories yet, click the links and READ!) Ate Trish is still fighting and even smiling, and so is her mom. Although it will take time for the pain to heal, Tita Len and her kids are coping well and healthily, too. No one can truly be happy and content on their own doing–not for a long time and especially not for ever.

Life may be harsh, but I don’t blame it for being harsh because if it wasn’t, I probably wouldn’t experience in a very strong and personal way God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness. Life shouts, “In your face!” but my God says, “Look at My face. I will fight for you.” 

On Faith and Focus

About two weeks ago, a new show was introduced in the weekend schedule of Fox channel. The program showcased the world’s greatest magicians and tricks that could be mistaken for miracles. I enjoyed watching the pilot episode, albeit several minutes late, because it was a show that needed only my eyes and awe and not my head for analysis (unlike Criminal Minds which followed right after). Magic tricks relieve stress, but when it’s my mind who does the tricking, stress and sin are written all over it.

Most, if not all, of the reasons behind my struggle for the past three months rooted out of erroneous and sometimes utterly repulsive thoughts which turned into beliefs which translated into actions.  Instead of walking in the Spirit day after day, I boarded the roller coaster and braved the loops, plunges, and lifts on my own strength and wisdom. Living with me, you won’t realize all the nasty things going on inside my head because I often kept mum about. I shared a struggle or two to my closest Christian friends and family members, but that tidbit of information was only the cherry on top; layers of sin lay beneath it.

Last Sunday, God spoke to me in a most personal and convicting way. I wasn’t going anywhere in my walk with Him because of two things I lacked: focus and faith. I leaned more on disobeying God rather than doing His will because I did not foster a high view of Him. To me, God was always gracious and forgiving. He is always gracious and forgiving, but He is also righteous and just. He established a rule called “sowing and reaping” through which I shall bear the consequences of my wrong decisions. Through Pastor Peter’s message last Sunday and a rebuking but redemptive quiet time session earlier this morning, God brought me back to basics: faith.

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

– Hebrews 11:6

Faith is a requisite to pleasing God. I did not please God on a regular basis (somehow I was still good) because of my unbelief. Instead of believing God according to what His Word says He is, I formulated an image of God that suited my plans and desires. Dear reader, beware of thinking the same way I did! God simply requires you to believe in Him for Who He says He is–nothing more, nothing less.

The lack of a proper focus also contributed to my aimless living. Your life can really be simplified by sticking to one goal. “Lord, what is this goal? What do you want me to do?” This morning God made me realize that this prayer was an incorrect one. If David knew right on that his predecessor, Saul, would grow jealous of him and hunt him down, would he entrust his life into God’s hands? God sustained him day by day, moment by moment; He revealed His plan on a daily basis as David trusted Him on a daily basis. After realizing the error in my prayer, I asked God for forgiveness and His wisdom and understanding so I could make right decisions today.

Because of my gracious, just, and patient Father, my eyes are opened once again and I am breathing and living on a renewed focus:

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17)

At some point in my tumultuous journey, I discarded setting goals because I thought goals would just add to my confusion. How foolish was my mindset! Why should I quit planning when Father Himself is a Planner? I would be inexistent and condemned if it not for His plan to send His one and only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to be the propitiation for my sins. 🙂

If you’re a Christian experiencing “theological confusion” right now, it’s time for you to go back to basics. Believe in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Humble yourself before your God and ask for His forgiveness, for “He is faithful and just and will forgive all your unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) Be completely honest with God; cry out your heart to Him.

“Lord, I’m sick of going through this sin cycle. Help me love You more than I love sin.”

Recommit your life to Him and watch Him work. I know I will. 🙂

To watch the inspiring message last Sunday (it was CCF’s 27th anniversary, by the way!), click this link!

images c/o Outlaw Army and my Tumblr page