My Own Version of the 100 Happy Days Challenge

By Lauren M.

I’ve been wondering if I should join the #100HappyDays Challenge, but I realized that I don’t have to. Is it because I’m always happy? Heck no. I do have a cheerful side, but it’s because I also have a tendency to be negative that I have had to try, with God’s help, to intentionally find things to be happy and thankful for these past several years. I realized that I have actually been doing my own version of the 100 Happy Days Challenge without meaning to.

20140331 - Photo by Lauren M. - My Own Version of the 100 Happy Days Challenge

Meet my Happy Ball πŸ™‚

There are days when being happy is automatic. Practice really does help so feeling cheerful takes less and less effort over time, sometimes even none (occasionally, I even have to suppress a smile when I’m walking alone para hindi isipin ng iba na nakatakas ako mula kung saan haha). There are days when blessings simply overflow and I can’t help but be happy. And sometimes, I just feel sunny because the sky is blue and the sun is shining (or because the wind is unusually cool for Philippine standards and I can wear a sweater!).

There are days when things can go either way. There are β€œnormal” days when nothing out of the ordinary happens. Then there are days that are a mix of simple blessings and minor problems. Whether I feel happy or not on such days depends on how I react to things, whether I choose to be positive or negative, whether I choose to focus on the blessings or the problems. Sometimes, I succeed in being happy. Sometimes, I fail. But even if I fail, that’s fine. Tomorrow is another day, another gift of grace from God.

And there are days when it’s useless to even try to be jolly or when I wonder what’s the point of doing so. Days when there are great sorrows, big problems or major disappointments. Or days when di mo lang talaga feel. I’m not saying one can’t have a peaceful kind of joy during times of trials, just that there are times when it’s okay if one can’t smile or laugh. During such days, I pray that I will learn to just rest quietly in God, who is there for us whether we are happy or sad, who accepts us whether we succeed or fail in our efforts to stay positive. During such days, may I learn to wait patiently until He himself restores my joy…

Sometimes, I admit I wish I was like other people who are naturally happy, who have it all together, who have less problems. That way, I don’t have to make a conscious effort to be joyful anymore. But I guess one advantage of being a very imperfect person with a very imperfect life is that it forces me to rely on God’s grace and to be thankful for every day of happiness He grants me.

To everyone who joined or is planning to join the 100 Happy Days Challenge, I just want to say β€œEnjoy!” I admire your efforts. I hope God will bless you with more joy as you consciously try to find things in your life to be thankful for. Because I still believe there are a lot πŸ™‚

β€œThe joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10)

β€œMy flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

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The Ultimate Love Story

By Lauren M.

The Ultimate Love Story is that the Ultimate Lover (God) did the Ultimate Act of Love (Sacrifice) so He could give us the Ultimate Gift (Jesus) and so we can have the Ultimate Happy Ending (Eternal Life) with Him.

Image

Photo courtesy of jubileelewis

May we all make the Ultimate Decision to say yes to the Ultimate Love!

Happy Valentine’s Day from Shepherd’s World πŸ™‚

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

Β 

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How Something that Seems Boring is a Reflection of God’s Love

By Lauren M.

A parent running in front of a truck to push her child out of harm’s way, a stranger rushing inside a burning building to rescue people whom he doesn’t even know, a man impulsively asking the woman he loves to marry him in front of a crowd. Impulsive acts of love like these are often lauded as the most passionate ones. And it is true, after all, that only a great kind of love can push people to do such acts.

Planning, on the other hand, is generally considered as a routine, passionless process. It’s commonly seen as necessary but boring. However, it suddenly dawned on me during this laidback weekend that planning is actually a reflection of God’s love. Forethought is a reflection of God’s love.

The draft of this blog post was written during a peaceful weekend in Clarke, Pampanga :)

The draft of this blog post was written during a peaceful weekend in Clarke, Pampanga πŸ™‚

I realized that, at the end of the day, the most passionate act of love – the redemptive death of Jesus on the cross – is actually driven by the strongest of loves that far surpass the loves that fuel most impulsive acts of love. Jesus’ death was not an act of impulse. It was the result of careful planning and forethought that dates itself from eternity. A planning that involves the most intricate of details which shows how much God cares for every detail of our lives, how much He cares for us.

β€œThis Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed…” (Acts 2:23, ESV)

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Surprised by Life

By Lauren M.

My friend Biday asked for goldfish during our group’s Christmas exchange gift several years ago. Our friend, who happened to pick Biday’s name, asked me if I could keep the fish she bought overnight before the day of our Christmas party, so into our aquarium the fishies went. When I woke up the next day, however, I discovered that some of the guest fish… ate some of my tiny fish. (No grudges against my friends πŸ™‚ Just using this as an anecdote…).

20121228 - Photo by Lauren M. - Surprised by Life

These aren’t the fish-eating fish from the story, but my fish from a different Christmas. I just wanted them to be models πŸ™‚

During a Christmas exchange gift with another group years ago, another friend requested for a rabbit. The person who picked the rabbit lover’s name also asked me to keep the bunny she got overnight before the day of our Christmas party. I will spare you the details of my bonding with the furball, but let’s just say that, if I considered keeping a cute fluffy rabbit as a pet before this incident, I stopped doing so afterwards :p

Living creatures may do unexpected things, so sometimes, inanimate objects may make tamer gifts. However, living creatures can also make us smile in ways that inanimate objects cannot, so they can make lovable gifts too.

What about life in general? Life… well, it can surprise us, both in pleasant ways and unpleasant ones. Real living and real loving can make us laugh, but it can also make us cry. It seems safer at times just to exist and hide in our emotional shells than to truly live. But Jesus encourages and enables people, then and now, to live life to the full anyway.

Peter wanted to return to his old fishing career after he denied Jesus; he was determined to drown his feelings of failure through sheer hard work. Jesus forgave Peter and restored him (John 21:3-22). And Jesus enabled Peter to carry out his true calling: to play an important role in turning the world upside down for Christ.

The Samaritan woman continued to enter into romantic relationships in spite of the failure of her previous relationships; she was determined to carry out her search for acceptance. Jesus gave the Samaritan woman unconditional forgiveness and acceptance. And Jesus enabled her, the former social outcast who could not even join the other women when they fetched water from the well, to lead her community to the Source of living water (John 4:6-42).

Nicodemus valued his religion so much that he hid under the cover of darkness when he first went to see Jesus (John 3:1-21); he was determined to protect his reputation even though he knew deep down that Jesus held the real answers to his questions. Jesus shook the Pharisee’s traditional religious beliefs and helped him to understand the true spirit of worship. And Jesus enabled Nicodemus to be bold enough to identify himself with Jesus in front of the Romans during a time when most of His own apostles were still in hiding (John 19:38-42).

Jesus, who loves goldfish, rabbits and especially people, came to give us true life. Jesus is Life.

Wishing you all a life full of adventure and surprises with Jesus this coming New Year. Merry Christmas and a Joyful New Year from Shepherd’s World!

β€œI have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

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What is Best?

By Lauren M.

A group of girls I know participated in an activity a few months ago. They were asked to pretend that the president of the country was kidnapped and that they were given the responsibility of hiring skilled individuals to form a rescue team to save the president (Note: the president didn’t really get kidnapped, okay? Just making it clear because one of the girls from the group actually believed that the scenario was real:p).

The girls made a list of qualifications and requirements for possible candidates. They wanted the potential members of the rescue team to have an impressive educational background, exceptional intelligence and physical strength, and solid, relevant work experience. That’s not really so surprising, is it? After all, when you are hiring someone for a job, shouldn’t you look for the best?

But then again, what seems to be the best is not always the best (Exodus 2-4).

Moses’ background seemed like the best preparation for him to become Israel’s deliverer. After all, he was the prince of Egypt (Ex. 2:10). Where else could he get better training than in the courts of Pharaoh? It was probably the closest equivalent of Harvard or Yale in ancient Egypt.

Moses’ weapon seemed like the best tool that he could use to deliver Israel from their enemies. The sword was a symbol of power and strength. And it was not merely a symbol – it could actually hurt or even kill people, which Moses ended up doing (Ex. 2:11-12).

Moses’ escape seemed like the best way for him to survive after he murdered the Egyptian (Ex. 2:15-21). Sometimes, running away seems like the easiest thing to do when one fails. Or when one messes up big time.

Yet surprisingly, what seems to be opposite of the best may actually be the best.

To modern people like us, an hour of waiting in heavy traffic is considered as wasted time. How much more 40 years spent in the dusty desert raising cute but dumb sheep? Yet Moses’ desert experience was actually the best preparation he could have to become God’s partner in delivering Israel (Ex. 3:1-12).

Image courtesy of edbrambley

Compared to a sword, a staff is just… a stick. Useful in some ways, but nowhere near as powerful. Yet Moses’ staff was actually the best tool he could use to serve God and Israel (Ex. 4:1-8). The powerless staff was used by a powerful God to show miracles to God’s people and God’s enemies, including the mighty Pharaoh.

But Moses was already comfortable with his boring but pleasant existence. Couldn’t God just have allowed him to stay in the peaceful desert with his sheep and his family? Wasn’t he already a confirmed failure? Wasn’t he already an old man who deserved rest and quiet? Yet Moses’ return was actually the best way for Moses and and the entire nation of Israel to survive by God’s grace (Ex. 4:29-31).

Moses, the ex-convict, desert dweller and shepherd, and not Moses the prince, was actually the best person God could use to deliver Israel. God chose this Moses to lead Israel out of the land of their oppressors and on the road to the Promised Land.

There are many things that may seem like the best. Yet God has a funny way of turning things upside-down. He knows what’s really best. And spending time with Him can change the way we see what’s best and what’s not.

Β β€œBut Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘But I will be with you…’” (Exodus 3:11-12, ESV)

β€œAnd we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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“Willing to Wait?”

By Lauren M.

β€œWilling to wait?” is the automatic question that I get asked in local fast food restaurants when the food item that I want to order (fried chicken! Tuna pie! French fries! Ice cream!) is not immediately available. When I’m in a hurry or just really hungry, I usually ask the fast food crew member what item they can give me right away and just settle for whatever that is even if it’s not what I originally craved for. But when I’m not in a rush or my stomach isn’t growling yet, I usually just wait until the food that I really want is finally prepared.

It’s hard enough to wait for food when we want it now but it’s even much harder to wait for other things in life, whether they be related to ministry, family life, career or personal life.

Image courtesy of Steve Snodgrass

It’s not just modern people like us who have to wait for certain things; people who lived in ancient biblical times were not exactly strangers to waiting either. Abraham and Sarah had to wait until they were old enough to be great-grandparents before they became… parents (Gen. 18:10-14, Gen. 21:1-3). Joseph had to stay in whatever the Egyptian equivalent of Muntinlupa prison was for years because of a crime he did not even commit (Gen. 39:19-20). And the nation of Israel had to wait for thousands of years for the Messiah to finally come to earth.

But Abraham and Sarah became the ancestors of the nation of Israel (Matt. 1:2). Joseph’s imprisonment became the way for him to become the prime minister of Egypt, whom God used to rescue Israel from starvation during a famine (Gen. 45:4-8). And Jesus, well, Jesus was simply worth waiting for.

The Lord has reasons for letting us wait even though we might not understand why there has to be a delay at all. We have two choices. We can wait for God’s right timing: β€œI wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope.” (Psalm 130:5, NASB).

Or we can force something we want to happen to happen right now through our own methods, just like Abraham and Sarah who tried to hasten the promise of God, with messy results (Gen. 16:1-5), although God still redeemed everything in the end.

And if we do choose to wait, we also have two choices: we can either sulk or worry while waiting or we can enjoy what we have right now. I’ve done my fair share of both – I’m an expert at the former but, yeah, the latter is more fun.

 

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What? It’s Not Over Yet?

By Lauren M.

When I was in college, I managed to convinced some classmates to choose a mountain climbing trip as our one-day alternative class during one semester. I didn’t even think about whether I could climb a mountain or not at that time. Even though I wasn’t exactly athletic, we were all in fairly good health. I thought it would be all about, you know, communing with nature and stuff like that.

The mountain we climbed was beautiful – but I couldn’t exactly absorb the beauty of my surroundings when my legs and thighs felt like they were burning. β€œMalapit na tayo,” (β€œWe’re getting near,”) our guide kept on saying. Those words encouraged me to grit my teeth and to take just one more step. And another. And then another. Even if I was a newbie at mountain climbing, I didn’t think, of course, that we were already near the top of the mountain. But I did think that the guide was trying to say that we would soon reach a milestone, like a resting place or an important landmark.

Image courtesy of dodongflores

After what felt like an hour, but what was probably only around 15 minutes, the guide finally said, β€œNandito na tayo…” (We’re already here…”). I gasped with relief since my lungs felt like they were gonna burst soon. The guide continued, β€œNandito na tayo sa starting point” (β€œWe’re already here at the starting point”).

I stared at the guide in disbelief. Starting point? Was this a joke? I thought. Apparently not, since that tireless person continued to climb the mountain, with the rest of the group, including my huffing and puffing self, trailing behind.

Joseph, the husband of Mary, must have had an even harder time when he went to Bethlehem, much more than a bored college student who wanted to try something new. After all, he traveled for miles while taking care of a pregnant woman (Luke 2:4-5), he helped his wife find shelter so that she could give birth to her first child (Luke 2:6-7) and he had to look after some important paperwork in the process (Luke 2:5).

But at last, he was able to do all he needed to do at the time. Perhaps some time after Jesus’ birth, Joseph already looked forward to going back to Nazareth and settling in a small but comfortable home with his family. Finally, he probably thought, he could get some well-deserved rest. But a dream in the middle of the night would change all this:

β€œAn angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt.’” (Matthew 2:13)

Joseph could have disobeyed. He could have grumbled. But he didn’t – he just packed up their meager belongings and fled with his family to Egypt. So instead of going home, he and his family had to run away to a foreign land, where everything – the surroundings, the language, the people – was unfamiliar.

Just when he thought the challenges were over, a new one came his way. But his family’s unexpected exile was for their own good, even though Joseph didn’t understand it completely at the time. For their immediate good, because they were able to avoid King Herod’s soldiers who were sent to kill Jesus. And for their long-term good as well, because their stay in Egypt would allow a prophecy to be fulfilled: β€œOut of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1)

Joseph’s faith and obedience encouraged me recently to trust in God when I felt like life was throwing me another challenge, just after I’ve been through a series of challenges, and I thought about quitting already.

However, I admit that the story of Joseph was not the reason why I kept climbing the mountain during that college expedition. I just didn’t want to be left by myself in the middle of the wilderness! Thankfully, my legs started to lose the burning feeling after some time had passed and I was able to make it to the top of that Level 1 mountain with the rest of the group. Although I felt like something the cat dragged in by the time the trip was over, I was glad I didn’t give up because it actually felt exhilarating to reach a mountain’s peak. But I’m not ashamed to say that I stuck to more tame alternative classes, such as body painting and other indoor activities, during the following semesters.

 

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