Is There Hope for My Broken Family?

One of the most difficult questions I’ve had to answer after our family’s 3-week vacation to the States was “How was your trip?”. Every single time a friend or a colleague asked me this, I took a deep breath, smiled, and said: “It was good! Really fun!” But, behind those answers was a heart breaking inside of me. Yes, by God’s grace, there were good and amazing highlights which I hope to share sometime soon. However, I couldn’t just let go of the fact that our family went through an emotional roller coaster ride that continued even a month after we got back to the Philippines. We went home to the same house each day and had occasional chats, but there was definitely an elephant in the room.

 

PRIDE IN THE FAMILY

The trip was supposed to be a fun time with the family because of three main reasons: 1) Our eldest sister’s wedding and meeting the extended family in Hawaii, 2) Our family reunion with my father’s side, and 3) Our whole family’s first time to travel the States together. But while we were still in the States, our different types of personalities clashed almost every day. From the smallest concerns to the biggest problems we encountered, the pride in us took over our hearts and minds.

Unfortunately, this caused us to stumble and sin not only in our thoughts, but also in the harsh and unloving words that we carelessly threw against each other. When someone made a mistake, some of us were quick to judge and comment about it. When someone made suggestions, some of us chose to disregard and belittle them. When someone opened up that he/she was hurt, the other side became defensive. When we experienced delays, hassles, or detours during the trip, blaming and getting annoyed at each other became a normal response. Moreover, smiling for the camera in between these moments was the cherry on top! It was very tiring and frustrating.

 

INDIFFERENCE IN THE FAMILY

As each day passed by, I kept telling God about my disappointment and heartbreak because of our family’s situation. There were moments when I would cry or cringe especially when I would see myself and my other family members being joyful with others, yet having not much emotion or interest back at home. It broke my heart to see how it was normal for us to worship God and serve others when we ourselves weren’t honoring God in our relationships in the family. I also noticed that some of us preferred staying out late instead of going home early to spend more time with the family. In addition, some of us kept ourselves busy with work or other interests, since it was more convenient compared to dealing with the problem. In a nutshell, our family was already giving up on each other.

“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.Psalm 43:5

 

HUMILITY IN THE FAMILY

Last Saturday, during a road trip with my older sister to a coffee farm, I had the opportunity to open up to her and share what I was feeling and thinking of, in relation to the elephant in the room. I said things like: “I honestly don’t know my parents and siblings anymore. We don’t make time for each other which causes us to be quick in judging and not understanding each other.” and “I’ve been ranting about this to God almost every day. I feel like He’s telling me to stop ranting and to start doing something about it!”

Our exchanges of experiences led us to agreeing that we needed to resolve issues and have a family meeting. We just couldn’t imagine seeing this problem snowball into something bigger in the years to come. I sent out a chat invite to our family’s group chat and surprisingly, they all (parents, older sister, and younger brother) confirmed their attendance for the next day. Ironically, that same road trip, I let my pride take control of me and it caused a tension between me and my sister (which I shared in my previous POST). But, God used that experience for me to understand the value and blessing of humility and by His grace, this inspired me to be intentional in praying for and facilitating our family meeting that weekend.

It was one of the awkward moments I’ve had with the family. Seeing them walk in the coffee shop one by one and knowing that we all had unresolved issues in our hearts. But somehow, God was encouraging me to trust that He is more than able to restore our relationships in His perfect timing. After Mom opened in prayer, I started to lead the discussion by sharing that the purpose of our talk that night was for us to be aware of the situation we had and to trust that God will help us restore what was broken.

I then asked everyone (including myself) two questions that night. The first question was: “What changes do you desire to see in our family?”. This was our chance to let each other know about the improvements that we wanted to see in the members of the family. After around 10 minutes, I asked them the second question: “What changes do you desire to see in YOURSELF, in relation to the family?”. I remember seeing some of their eyes widen and hearing some say “ohh my!”. I guess it was a question that they did not expect. After everyone finished typing their answers on their mobile phones, I said: “Okay! It’s now time to share our answers to the group. Let’s begin with question… #2.”

By God’s grace, He inspired me to set the tone of humility in our discussion by starting with the second question. Knowing our family (based on the previous open forums we’ve had in the past years), whenever we first shared about family issues and problems because of each other, our conversations did end up having action steps, but they also turned a bit sour afterwards. Sometimes, there would still be conversations after the open forum where some of us would say, “I still felt that I wasn’t understood when I opened up…” and all those similar responses.

So, for our recent family meeting, it was refreshing and very humbling for each of us to start the discussion by admitting our own weaknesses, shortcomings, and desires to improve ourselves within the context of family. By the time we moved on to question #1, the issues and concerns shared were willingly welcomed by each member. After a loooong time, I sincerely saw how each member was intentional in hearing out and understanding where the hurting member was coming from. There were no defensive or harsh comments made and when we were almost leaning towards a tension, the other members helped in balancing the conversation. Not only did we get to know each other and our hurts more, we also had the opportunity to forgive, to ask for forgiveness, and to believe in the best towards each other. Hugs were given, tears were shed, funny comments were occasionally said, tips to love each other were shared, and walls among us were slowly being destroyed.

“God, I’m done running from the reason that You sent Your Son. So I’m gonna choose to love.
Maybe I’ll hurt, maybe I’ll bruise, maybe I’ll cry, maybe I’ll lose.
Still I will choose to love.” –Francesca Battistelli

 

HOPE FOR THE FAMILY

We ended the night by encouraging each other to grow in our relationship with Jesus and in our love for each other, by the power of the Holy Spirit. My heart was overjoyed, not because all of our family concerns were solved, but because we found hope in Jesus. In spite of our weaknesses, He is more than able to transform our hearts and do miracles in our families, no matter how simple or hopeless the situations and problems may be. All it takes is a step of faith when He calls us to act on it and trust in Him.

You too might wonder: “Is there hope for my broken family?”

I think you already know the answer to it. Will you believe it? :)

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” –Romans 15:13

*Note: I asked my family’s permission before blogging about this.*

My Starbucks Confession

I’d like to confess something that some of you may already know about me…

I like going to Starbucks.😅

It started when I fell in love with their frappuccinos back in college, even if I did not (and still do not) have a sweet tooth. This love grew when I realized that I could have quality, quiet times in this coffee shop! My introverted self was overjoyed! Starbucks is usually expensive and unhealthy for my body, but ironically, it has been very good for my heart. I can’t even count the number of times the Lord has spoken to me thru His word, broken me, and revealed Himself to me in the various Starbucks shops I’ve stayed at before. There were moments when I would even cry quietly or write songs and poems and not have a care in the world. It has been a safe space for me.

During my quiet time last February 25, 2018, when I was struggling with insecurities, I was encouraged to be intentional in reminding myself of my identity in Christ. Each time I bought a drink in Starbucks, I decided to ask the barista to write one identity on it. Every time they finished preparing my drink, they would call out: “One Java Chip frappuccino for REDEEMED!” or “One Black Tea with Ruby Grapefruit & Honey for FORGIVEN!” …and I would receive it!

It was awkward at first, because the baristas usually gave me a confused look whenever I asked them to write these down. But as time passed by, my barista friends got used to it that even before I said my order, they would ask me in advance, “Hi Nicole! What would be your name for today? :)”

It was a really good way for me to remember my name — WHO I AM — my identity in Jesus! I am forgiven, redeemed, free, never alone, new, beautiful, accepted, alive, and many more! It fueled the desire in me to keep on digging deep in God’s word and seeing myself through His eyes. By God’s grace, this “Starbucks Identity Cups” experience even gave me the opportunities to engage in conversations about the Bible with the baristas that serve my drinks.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” -Colossians 2:6-7 

This afternoon, I was tempted to dwell on my insecurities again. I asked the Lord why He was still allowing me to have them despite me knowing and believing the truth, and even experiencing Him in my life. I didn’t get a specific answer from Him, but somehow, I did feel peace in my heart as I recalled how these insecurities have helped me to run towards Him and His word each time I hurt and fall. I felt the Lord shifting my focus on my struggle and what I can do to overcome it, to who He is and what Jesus, my Lord and Savior, has already done for me when He died and rose again. It reminded me of John 16:33 where it says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

It has been a year since I started the Starbucks Identity Cups and I am still attacked by insecurities and worries every now and then. But, Jesus has always been constant, faithful, and gracious. And because He is who He is, I will fix my eyes on Him and trust that He will finish the work that He started in my heart. I pray that I will indeed stay rooted and find my true security and identity in Christ alone.

Since this isn’t the healthiest way, I am praying that I will be able to be more resourceful in finding other shops or spots where I can journal and dig deep without being distracted. But until then, I will most likely visit this coffee shop. (Please feel free to give suggestions. :) )

Will This Bring Me Closer To You?

I always tell my siblings how much our pomeranian, Copper, likes me. Whenever I get the chance to bond with him, he stays beside me and licks me continuously! Also, 99% of the time, he comes to me when I ask him to. But, my all-time favorite moment with him happens during our walks at the park. Whenever he’s more than a meter away, he would look back at me, see me squat on the ground, run towards me, and pounce his tiny bear-like body on my legs. Afterwards, he would sit under me like a baby penguin sits under its parent.

Most of the time, his clinginess is adorable. But, there are moments when I just want him to stay still or stay at a distance from me. For example, yesterday, I brought him to the groomers so he could have his overdue haircut. Instead of sitting on the passenger’s seat, he jumped to me and attempted to sit on my lap for the whole ride. I knew I could get in trouble for this because it was a distraction while I was driving. So, I did my best to softly push him to sit still on the chair beside me.

After his grooming, I picked him up and drove back home. Again, he wouldn’t stop going near me. So, I thought of a compromise. I allowed him to sit on my left leg as I leaned it on the driver’s door. This made him feel at ease and I was still able to turn the wheel without him blocking me. However, in the future, I would need a better plan.

Nonetheless, I do enjoy hanging out with Copper. Even if there are other spaces on my bed, whenever he’s on it, he positions his body beside mine. Whenever I lay down on the floor, he would go out of his “cave” (a.k.a. the space below my bed) and sit beside me. It warms my heart to know that he trusts me and chooses to be close to me.

This scenario reminded me of how the Lord is pleased when I choose to draw near to Him too. It says in Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Also, contrary to how I sometimes feel towards Copper’s clinginess, the Lord will never push us away when we seek Him. In fact, James 4:8 shows us that God will draw near to us when we draw near to Him.

In a way, this was a timely reminder for me because I have been dealing with a lot of major decisions lately. But by God’s grace, He has been helping me process my concerns with His Word, godly counsel, and prayer. Also, as I was pouring my heart out on my journal last night, I found myself writing these down:

“When faced with a difficult decision, Nicole, ask yourself this question: ‘Will this decision bring me closer to Jesus or farther away from Him?’”

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Because your love is BETTER than life, my lips will glorify you.” -Psalm 63:1,3

Can I honestly say these verses from my heart?

Do I enjoy God’s presence in my life?

Does my heart yearn for him, thirst for Him, run to him, trust him, and abide in Him and His word in every season of my life?

Do I like what God likes? Do I hate what He hates?

Do I pursue what He wants me to prioritize now?

Do I seek and love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength?

Or do I give him my leftover minutes in a day? And linger in my doubt, laziness, distractions, pride, worry, and desire for treasures that will fade away?

If I think about choosing a decision, no matter how big or small, that will take me or others farther away from the Lord, I would immediately need to have my heart and motives checked and renewed by Him. Because it just wouldn’t make sense. WHAT OR WHO COULD BE BETTER THAN JESUS?

NOTHING! NO ONE!

Copper chooses to be as close to me as possible all the time. If my dog can do that to me, how much more should I have the desire and will to draw closer to Jesus? It boils down to making a choice… and choosing Him every single time will only be by His grace and by the power of the Holy Spirit in me.

Courageous Caitie Launches Courageous Light

“There are moments that the words don’t reach. There is suffering too terrible to name. You hold your child as tight as you can and push away the unimaginable.”

These lines were taken from Lin Miranda’s song “It’s Quiet Uptown” from the American musical, Hamilton. I’ve been listening to the album for a few weeks now and I always take a deep sigh whenever I hear this particular song. In this tune, the main characters grieve over the loss of their child and other disheartening situations they experienced. It showed the reality of pain and how we feel and deal with it.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (17)

 

I then remembered the story and life of  Courageous Caitie and how her parents (Jay Jay and Tine Lucas) and family shared their hearts, lives, and experiences to us earlier this year.

Their three-year old daughter, Caitie, was diagnosed last March 2016 with Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML), a rare cancer of the blood affecting infants and toddlers. Last March 30, her family posted an update on Courageous Caitie’s Facebook page which said: “Today our daughter has gone to Jesus already.”

courageous caitie 2

It has been been quite a roller-coaster ride for the Lucas family these past few months. But, by the grace of God, they still continue to share God’s love, goodness, grace, and power to people from all over the world. One of the many opportunities that God has given the Lucas family is a movement that aims to help families of children with illnesses find God’s hope and purpose. Last Saturday, their family launched this movement called “Courageous Light”.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (1)

It was a privilege for me to witness the family gather relatives, friends, and strangers at the Gateway Mall Activity Center where they celebrated the life and legacy of Caitie. Here are some of the highlights of the launch last weekend:

 

1. STAR WARS – Star Wars characters showed a demo of how they used their lightsabers. The men and women part of the groups, The 501st Legion and FightSaber, also visit children in hospitals to help share the joy. They joined Caitie in distributing materials and visiting other kids in the hospital a few months ago too. (In the photo below: Jay Jay Lucas and Lem Enriquez hosting the event)

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (2)

 

2. VIDEOS – Videos of Caitie and her parents and family were shared to the audience. These videos included the first birthday of Caitie, hospital visits, interviews of her parents, wake services in the Philippines and in Singapore, and compilations of photos.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (3)

 

3. GOD’S WORD – Mr. John Ong shared God’s Word and what it means to have Jesus in our hearts and lives; to have Him as our personal Lord and Savior.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (6)

 

4. GALLERY OF PHOTOS – The family showcased a beautiful gallery of Caitie and their family. From the time she was born up until her heartwarming moments in the hospital with her parents, brother, and relatives. They also shared some of Caitie’s artworks, clothes, shoes, and things by displaying them on two tables (covered in glass) inside the activity center.

courageous caitie

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (8)

 

5. LIGHT CEREMONY – The couple distributed cupcakes to those who were in the activity center and they encouraged everyone to participate in blowing the candles to celebrate Caitie’s birthday. In the video below, you’ll hear how Jay Jay shared that the light represents Jesus and that it was their desire to encourage more and more people to keep on sharing the light (Jesus) to those around us.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (5)

 

6. GOSPEL TREES – They posted large photos of painted trees without leaves. It was the task of the participants to paint the leaves using their fingertips. There were five trees in that area which represented these: HEAVEN (Yellow), OUR SINS (Black), GOD’S LOVE FOR US (Red), , NEW LIFE IN CHRIST (White), and GROWTH (Green). This gallery shared about God’s love, hope, and salvation for us.

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Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (14)

 

7. COURAGEOUS LIGHT POSTCARDS – These postcards are printed Bible verses illustrated by different Filipino artists to remind us of the power of God’s Word. There were 100 selected postcards that were divided into four volumes. One volume is being sold at Php 495 each. The proceeds from these postcards will be used to fund materials for hospital visits and other events that can help families support their children with illnesses. They also sell other merchandise like notebooks, toys, shirts, etc.

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8. COURAGEOUS LIGHT VOLUNTEERS (a.k.a. Troopers) – The people who worked behind the scenes; those who helped with the program, posters, artworks, decorations, set-up of photos displayed, preparation of materials and merchandise, lights and sounds; the prayer warriors, those who committed to join the team in their hospital visits; and many more. Everyone did a great job! Praise God!

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While I was going around the activity center during the event, I caught glimpses of the couple and how they interacted with friends and strangers. Some of the guests who went there brought their child/children with illnesses to seek comfort from Jay Jay and Tine. It was very heartwarming to see the couple graciously welcome, encourage, and share Jesus to them that afternoon. They continued to point to Jesus for the source of joy, hope, peace, and security even during difficult moments. WOW.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (11)

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (10)

Just before I went to another part of the gallery, I saw that the couple was being interviewed by one of the reporters in the area. As I watched them eagerly share, I thought to myself “Wow. Many years ago, they wouldn’t have imagined going through what they went through these past three years. But, despite the pain and loss, God’s love, hope, and grace continues to shine through the hearts and lives of the Lucas family. Even though I don’t get to communicate with them often, I am very much encouraged by them to keep my eyes on Christ even if I stumble or go through major bumps along the way.

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“You hold your child as tight as you can and push away the unimaginable.” [The Musical: Hamilton]

In the case of the Lucas family, they aren’t pushing away the unimaginable. By God’s grace, they are going through it; witnessing God’s hand at work in the lives of hundreds of thousands who are being blessed by their testimony of God’s goodness. And this new movement that they are starting is just the beginning of another opportunity to share Jesus to the world. Thank you, Lucas family, for continuously stepping out in faith and trusting in the Lord. I pray that He would embrace you, give you wisdom, strengthen you, keep you from falling into pride or sin, and guide you as you honor Him with the resources He has blessed you with.

Courageous Caitie Courageous Light (4)

“Don’t let your lights go down. Don’t let your fire burn out.
‘Cause somewhere, somebody needs a reason to believe

So when you get the chance, are you gonna take it?
There’s a really big world at your fingertips and you know you have the chance to change it.”

-Britt Nicole’s “The Lost Get Found”

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” –Ephesians 3:20-21

 

The gallery will be displayed at the Gateway Mall Activity Center until August 13, 2016. But, for the succeeding Saturdays (until Sept. 3), there will be activities for parents and kids. Feel free to drop by! For more details, you may visit the Facebook pages of Courageous Caitie and Today with the Lucas!