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A Beautiful 2015

I know its easy to fall apart, when all you see is a trail of scars.

When im hopelessly broken, in a moment of doubt, Youre my only way out.

Im not scared because You are where I am.

You fill the empty, light up the dark.

Ill stand again, take another step because of You.

So I run to you with nothing left.

I surrender all till my last breathe.

And I wont forget until the end, You’re not done with me yet.

– Excerpts from Colton Dixon’s Where I Am

Some like most of the people I know, I find refuge through songs. To know that someone went through what I am going through now is comforting that they have successfully graduated that chapter in their life.

As 2015 comes to a close, it has been a beautiful chorus.

Beautiful because I have seen the ugly, the hurt, the confusion, the scars and the pain. Because of these, my eyes have opened to take delight to what “beautiful” is about.

I have to be honest that I have a huge share of doubt, of worry and of anxiety. I honestly told God that it is so difficult to put my full trust in Him. That everytime I make a decision to do so, a small pull of doubt from the inside fights its way to the joy that God is exactly where I am.

The battle is mostly in the mind.

3 years back, the week when I was scheduled to give birth to our first born-Caitlin, Jayjay, my husband was battling with so much pain under his right jaw. We didn’t know then if it was connected that his left foot started to swell. His foot couldn’t fit into his shoe anymore. Both feet began to swell mixed with high fever and excruciating pain all over his body centered mostly around his neck. He continued to work whole day taking photographs of people getting married when he was in so much pain.

The day I labored, he was in pain yet he tried to still be by my side. The day I gave birth, he also underwent MRI and multiple exams to find out the cause and treat it. When we got discharged from the hospital, we kept on going back to different hospitals and doctors only to hear that they suspect Lymphoma. From St lukes global, st lukes e rod, Makati med, they all wanted to slice it open. I wanted to go for it so we can treat it immediately.

At night when I would nurse and put back the baby to sleep, I kept on crying what God wanted me to learn from this and I wanted to learn it already so we can graduate. The fear that I was newly married with a newborn gave a different scare of the possibility of loosing my husband.

Thankfully we tried the doctor my sister-in-law went to when she had her tyroid operation. Upon showing all the results, Dr Kim Shi Tan said that it was good we waited and that we didn’t slice it open immediately or else it would’ve spread throughout his body.

He suspects that the symptoms; foot swelling, lots of “kulani’s” around his neck is caused by tuberculosis of the lymph node. It didn’t hit his lungs and it wasn’t contagious. The TB was luckily contained in his lymph nodes and didn’t spread.

He was given medication to be taken for 8 months – fixcom 4 to fixcom 5. He diligently took it and showed signs of improvement even on the first month. He is now fully healed and the lump that we thought was just a muscular mass on his chin is gone. He had it ever since he was still young and single.

6 months after, my daughter was admitted for Cellulitis in the foot.

A year after, she was again admitted for dengue.

2 years after, December 21 last year, my mother-in-law’s had a small pimple-like lump below her breast which she decided to be taken out resulted in her cancer metascizing to stage 4 bone cancer. Joyfully, 12 sessions chemotherapy, 8 months didn’t give her a bad set of side effects unlike the first time where she was in pain, weak and lost her hair. This time, her body and soul was full of life. She was able to do her errands, care for her grand children, conduct and attend bible study groups, lead a group of women and do ministry.

A month after her chemo she started to feel numbness in her leg, visual blurriness and extreme migraine. When it was intolerable already, the family decided to go through radiation. And that’s where her body started to deteriorate. Motor skills where slow to respond, extreme headache and she had weak leg muscles already which caused her to be bed ridden.

It was difficult for the family to see her in this situation but I couldn’t imagine what Mom could be thinking and feeling. For someone to be the life of the room, the light of the home, the perfect host who always made sure everyone in the room felt comfortable was lying in bed helpless.

Additional turn of events continued to escalate when what we all thought was insect bites with Caitie started to increase in number. Were there bed mites? Air mites? What started out as an innocent looking mosquito bite would grow bigger then with swell to red, be itchy then turn black and blue “pasa” like which was painful. Then end with flattened brown scars. This would take 10 – 15 days and the brown scars would take longer to fade away. There was even a time we thought that she had a sprain because her ankles swelled so bad. The “bites” continued to increase and show up her knees, thighs, arms, then the face. We went to dermas and they said that she was just allergic to insect bites. Then we went to an immunologist because I wanted to know if and why her immune system was low, then Dr. Rocha suggested a skin TB test. But he still thought that the “bites” came from insects.

As a mom, it was alarming to see my daughter have so much bites and in so much pain and I felt irresponsible if it was indeed mites that caused these.

Our pedia recommended us to go to another Derma – Dra Romero and this time I heard something different. That she was having a skin reaction – Erythema Nodosum wherein the body fat under the skin’s reacts to an infection- in her case it’s the TB. That an insect bite should not have nodules or “laman” inside and should not turn black and blue.

Another friend suggested that we also try a pedia Rheumatologist – Dra Bernal and interestingly on the same day and time, they had the same diagnosis.

So our Pedia then decided to give the full blown TB meds. And just to clear it out, she asked up to have the usual xray and blood exam. her blood test and abdominal xrat wasn’t favorable. Her spleen and liver were enlarged, wbc high, blood count low and a faint sigh of low platelet. We were then recommended to have a 2nd and 3rd opinion from an pedia infectious disease and a pedia hema-onco. I was starting to feel worried and cry my heart out. As to get opinion from these doctors was kind of scary. But it was comforting when our Pedia said “ I will guide you through this and will not leave you. Lets pray”.

While waiting for the doctor, I cried then I finally said. “Lord…ok, yes I surrender. I surrender my husband, my mom in law and my daughter to you. You have given them to me, though I don’t understand, I surrender them to you. If you want them back in your arms, I surrender them.” It was so difficult. And the story or Abraham and Isaac because alive in me.

Sarah the wife of Abraham after years of being barren…like 90 or 100 years I think, God blessed her with a child. To the man that God said, you will be a father of all nations, how can God ask Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac when it was His promise that He will father a nation? It was something you couldn’t understand, but Abraham obeyed despite being so difficult to do. When it was time to sacrifice Isaac, God was pleased with his heart and provided an animal in replacement of Isaac.

I told God, Lord what do you want me to do? What should I obey? I pleaded at first to spare my child and my mother in law from the pain and sickness. That they have been living a life that only wanted to please You, their Master and God. I asked for forgiveness from my sins and I thought if this was a consequence of my sin when I was single. That God is a merciful God but He is a just God. That He forgives but there are consequences to our actions, which we cannot run away from. When I was young, I consciously decided to let go of a child in my womb without any fear from the Lord, I thought this time that the consequence I am experiencing is what Jesus’ heart must have experienced when I let go of that child. I asked Jesus to spare Caitlin and I felt remorse and something I didn’t do before when I was wrong. The life out of heart was taken out and I couldn’t help but kneel helplessly and crying to my Father in heaven. Telling Him… “let your will be done. It will hurt but we live for You…so let your will be done and I surrender. Use our lives to give you glory”.

Then I read my bible then it was clear as day to hear God’s voice through His word that I was making my child, my “idol” I was putting in so much on my own trust on my own will, strength and wisdom. That I had this idea of what I want my child to be. God is a jealous God and my desire for the best for my daughter was becoming more of an idol than just a desire. Then again I said, “ok Lord, I release her to you.”

Right after that, the doctor at 11:30pm came inside the room Caitie was admitted and explained to us that he is ruling out acute Leukemia which brought back life to my lungs. She had a mix of 3…hereditary anemia (Low blood. Which we then realized that both mine and her blood count was low) mixed with her body fat’s reaction to the tb infection which causes the erythema nodosum then lastly mixed with a viral infection she caught over the weekend. It was a triple whammy. But we were relieved that we just need to treat it and it will be ok. Then when the primary complex is treated, being anemic will then be treated.

It was more though when the kids were encouraged to stay at home so that they can boost their immune system and a slight hint of being with a person who is sick might be a bad thing for them. So it was more difficult knowing that the kids cant visit their Nana anymore because it was also dangerous for Nana to be exposed since both of them had low immune system. To add to this was that we finally decided that we have to have separate Christmas dinners for all sides of the family.

I realized that it’s an every second battle of holding on and surrendering to God.

Then the most unthinkable happened, on December 20 Sunday at was we thought was a normal rest day from a week of work, my sister in law messaged in viber that Mom’s heart rate was low, that she was not waking up. At around 3:45 she said that there was no heartbeat. We were in disbelief and Jayjay and I rushed to the nearest hospital near their home. They tried to revive mom 7 times but she wasn’t responding.

And that was it. You couldn’t understand what was happening in your soul and in your heart.

She had recurring seizures the week prior despite showing signs of improvement for the past 2 weeks, her body gave up on Friday resulting with her body shutting down. Sister in law said she had extreme bowel movement or incontinence as what they referred it as if all her physical system was starting to shut down. She kept on sleeping and was unresponsive as if it was her body’s way of preparing its way to stop.

When dad and tin went home that afternoon, I think it was mom’s way of being resolved emotional and spiritually. Because when they got home, that was the only time she finally let go.

It has been a difficult Christmas eve as we laid down to rest our mother to celebrate the birth of the Savior; The reason for mom’s purpose and life. It was bitter sweet.

Grieving while thinking about my daughter who’s “bites” started to erupt again after 2 weeks of what we thought was absent already. But maybe the erythema will not stop until she is fully healed? Maybe? Combined with her stomach pains, where she experiences bowel movement minutes after eating. She was diligent in eating but if she expels the food she eats, I wondered how the nutrients will be absorbed. We are now going to try my gluten free diet and see if it will stop her stomach pain, bloating, gas and bowel movement everytime she eats so that she will gain weight. It was disheartening to see how much she could eat, how big of an appetite she had but she always had to go to the toilet or wake up hungry yet not see her gain weight and even loose it and be small in stature.

This year I have learned a deeper understanding of the joy of not just surrendering but dedicating the life of my loved ones. I have learned that our own growth should not be dependent on circumstances or other people but on our own response to these. Jayjay and I witnessed a lot of shaken relationships this year as well. I realized that if we choose to delay in obedience, it simply prolongs the agony. That if we choose to obey, there is gladness of heart and blessings come immediately. The point of crossing to surrendering and keeping to ourselves is extremely so difficult but once you do so, you have peace that you made the right decision.

I have learned to number our days. Purposefully and humbly. That we are not meant to live comfortably in this world. To have that eternal perspective of planning for the future but to live as if it was my last. I have never owned a personal “motto” but this has been true for the past year. “we are never meant to live comfortably”. To also express love in more ways than ever. To learn to express love physically through a touch or an embrace and through words as this is something I never grew up with.

My mother-in-law always wore a confident reassuring smile. She was the kind of mother-in-law that youd love! Always present when you need her but knew how to keep her distance so she will let us grow on our own. She carried a smile that despite my kids or her or her family being sick, she never wore a sad face. Her face always lit up! Its so difficult to do because im such a worrier but everytime that I catch myself feeling pity for myself and circumstance, I get reminded of her smile that we are exactly where God wants us to be and He is with us. We are right on cue in his time table. Never early, never too late. Just right.

Though we are still battling with what is going through the body of my children and grieving for mom’s passing. I cling on to the story of Gideon and the 300 men. Gideon was scared of the number of his enemies and he tried to bring in more people which was at par to the number of the enemy but God wanted to narrow down Gideon’s men. Simply because God wanted to teach Gideon that he would’ve trusted on himself, the strength of his men and on his wisdom rather than knowing that he would win the victory because of God. Not only was his men narrowed down to 300 vs 30,000 but God instructed them to carry not spears nor arrows but trumpets, vase with noisy content and torches. Gideon was still in disbelief that God would allow them to win so God told him to go and sneak in and listen through the enemy’s camp. the enemy guards dreamt that Gideon would win and gave Gideon confidence. And so, when they approached the enemy, they simply made noises and they won the battle without using armory.

I guess im much like Gideon, trying to bring in all the necessities I can get when all God wanted me to do was to rely on to Him. To rely on Him yet do my part in obeying what I need to be done no matter how illogical it would be. Trumpets, torches and vessels. How symbolic it is in our time; trumpets for me is to “speak and let people know” torches; to pave light or hope to those who are feeling that they are in darkness and vessels; to contain life stories and circumstances to be “broken” to wake up those who still do not believe.

Im still waiting for Caitie and Ethan’s healing and I don’t know how it will unfold, but one this is for sure – that Jesus is exactly where we are now. Its difficult to see them in pain but His grace is sufficient.

People would always tell me that I have so much energy when Im working; may it be as an engagement stylist or a back up photographer. That no angle is wasted. I always say that it is someone else’ special moment. That it took so much money, time effort from all suppliers and family to create this once in a life time event.

That I need to give my best because giving my best was the only option. And it feels good knowing you did everything thinkable. No regrets. Just your heart’s best. I guess I lived this out in work but not in life. Now, I want to give my best as if it’s the only option.

Right on Jesus. Forward to 2016 and claiming victory. Your kind of victory and not mine. You know me so well that I will indeed stumble and fall and make mistakes again. May I be reminded everytime to seek for your forgiveness and move forward.

Mom, see you soon. The thought of having the family around but youre not is unusual. I may now know how to move forward and experience our first year without you. Oh mom, you lived at best as it was the only option. You truly deserve the crown of righteousness in heaven. Now to live out the legacy you started. I pray that I will hold on to His grace to be sufficient.

Now for me to live at my best as if it’s the only option.

“Before I will bring my need, I will bring my heart Before I will lift my cares, I will lift my arms I want to know you, I want to find you in every season

Before I speak a word, I will bring my heart In the midst of pain, let me feel your joy. And seek You first.”

– First

On the 2nd day of 2016 we are now admitted again in Cardinal Santos. Caitlin was advised to have several blood work done, and now she will undergo a citi scan. The doctors want to be sure and to be able to rule out the bad diagnosis. It’s pretty much to take for the start of the year, but if this is from God and He allowed it to happen, it means that there is a purpose for this all. We will still praise Him still.

Last night we were at the ER when Caitie randomly said “Nana is in heaven with Jesus. Caitie also.” It just broke our hearts. Not yet my daughter not yet.

With all that is happening around us, God lead us to do a heart check. We got to remember the lessons we picked up from the story of Job and we thought it would be the perfect time to share them.

1. God knows

But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Job 2:10

When Job lost everything even his wife told him why don’t he just curse God and die. His response eventhough he was in pain was pretty amazing and true. It’s so easy to acknowledge all the good things that come into our life as from God, but those that are difficult to accept such as tragedy, sickness, loss and the like are quite challenging to acknowledge that it’s from God or that her allowed it.

2. God Limits the Trial

In the story of Job, everything was taken from him and even his health was allowed to deteriorate. But God said that His life would be spared. With this it is quite confusing what is the limit God has set on what’s going on with our daughter. But we trust that He has. We are clinging on to his promise in 1

Corinthians 10:13 that says:

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

3. Seek Growth, Not Vindication and the Elusive Why

Caitie has been ever since in and out of the hospital, and every time God taught us something out of them. Often we would get to ask why would God allow this to happen to our innocent and obedient child. Too many hospital visits and tests and yet we find ourselves amidst perhaps the biggest trial that has come into our daughter’s life. Questions linger, doubts foster, fear overwhelms. But with Job we got reminded that God has His plans and ways that sometimes we cannot comprehend.

“But as for me, I would seek God, And I would place my cause before God; Who does great and unsearchable things, Wonders without number.”

Job 5:8-9

4. Trust in the midst of Anguish

What Job had when he was going though all the trials was the consistent steadfast love for God. It was tested to the limit yet He did not give in to giving up his faith on God. Similarly, with the recent loss of mom, accompanied by the health of the kids, it was honestly so hard to have that steadfast love. It was amazing that Job was still able to say in Job 19:25

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.”

5. This Life is Temporary

Life here on earth is indeed short. With the story of Job we learned that we cannot be comfortable where we are right now. With Mom’s passing, Caitie’s yet to be determined sickness, like Job we just cry out to God and wait upon with trust that He will reveal all in the end. It’s been a time for personal examination and reflection for us and we are constantly seeking what God is teaching us each and as a family.

As we write this, we are thankful for the prayers of our family and friends who have been sending their messages, and taking time to visit us. 2016 may not have started the way we wanted it to be, but for our family it is how God designed it to be.

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