Edric and I have jokingly said that it’s ironic how Catalina’s name means “pure” when she has been bacteria-ridden since the day she was born. She has been zapped with a total of 6 different antibiotics in a span of 40 days just to clean out her system. Thankfully, she is now recovering at home from her pneumonia and no longer needs oxygen or the IV. She still has to take oral antibiotics and use a nebulizer, but there has been significant improvement in her breathing and eating.
The meaning of Catalina’s name may seem ironic given the circumstances but I think it is symbolic of what God has been doing in our lives as of late.
For a good long while Edric and I were kind of floating around in this happy bubble. Apart from the challenges that came with his work and the challenges of being a homeschooler and homemaker, we did not have any major problems. I am not saying this to boast. It was God who allowed us this season of protection from trials.
When Catalina was hospitalized a day after she was born this bubble popped. And it was just the beginning. Edric and I had multiple sources of stress (big and small) that occurred during the month. From delays in the house construction, car trouble, unprecedented expenses, two cell phones getting water-logged, having just one yaya for a period of time, dealing with a newborn and sleepless nights, losing a part of my breast pump so I had to buy a new one, and then our kids getting sick and being orphaned by us while we were at the hospital, and Catalina ending up with serious infections, not once, but twice…well, let’s just say these things took their toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I don’t think this was some cosmic experiment to test our breaking point. I know that God is not this kind of father. He doesn’t delight in the afflictions of his children. But I do believe he orchestrated and allowed every single unpleasantry that took place this past month. He used these trying experiences to refine us.
In the Bible God is referred to as a refiner. His word says, “… For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the Lord offerings in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:2, 3 NASB)
According to gold traders on how to refine gold, “refining with flame is one of the oldest methods of refining metals. Mentioned even in the bible, refining by fire is the preferable method for larger quantities of gold. In ancient times, this form of refining involved a craftsman sitting next to a hot fire with molten gold in a crucible being stirred and skimmed to remove the impurities or dross that rose to the top of the molten metal.”
As the master craftsman, God puts us through the same process of discomfort to remove the impurities in our lives. Sometimes these impurities may be blatant sins but other times they may be hindrances, habits, behaviors, attitudes or perspectives that do not meet God’s standard for Christ-likeness.
Taking out these impurities hurts. Who likes 1,000 degrees of heat?! Who likes trial after trial? No one. But just as the heating process is necessary to perfect gold, so also the fiery furnace of life is necessary to cleanse the soul.
Of the many lessons I learned during this past month, I will highlight one. God knew I had to grow in the area of compassion. For example, I used to think that moms who claimed to have difficult babies and were weighed down by the responsibilities of parenting were just making excuses for not showing up at a ministry activity or bible study. I would think, why do you let your baby dictate what you can and cannot do?
I had no idea! For the most part, God allowed my previous pregnancies, births, and the taking-care-of-a-newborn-stage to be relatively easy. And then came Catalina — always wanting to be held, emotionally sensitive and needy. Most difficult of all was her confinement in the hospital, not once, but twice. For the first time I understood what it meant when a mom says, “I can’t be there, I can’t make it,” or “I can’t volunteer” or “I am always tired because of my baby.” Oh honey you bet I understand now!
My compassion meter started working again! (Moms out there, forgive me…)
More importantly, this compassion extended to sharing the gospel. Previously occupied with my own comfortable world, I was not as tuned in to the spiritual needs of people around me. Sure, I was involved in ministry and I was vocal about Christ in my blog, but I was complacent about sharing the gospel one-on-one.
After experiencing brokenness before God — the kind that left me down on my knees crying out to him — the attentiveness towards the hurts of others was peaked. It was like unclogging a fat-lined artery that should have been working better.
Being in a hospital full of sick people, some of whom were dying, all of whom were hurting and hoping for relief, made me think about how short and fragile life is. I was compelled to reevaluate what my priorities are. I began to recognize how many opportunities I had missed out on in the past to tell others about Jesus. But God gave me new ones — the nurses in the hospital, a street vendor, a woman at the parlor, and a new yaya, among others.
A few days ago, after we were discharged from the hospital, I had a conversation with my dad. He was seated on his lazy boy in the bedroom reading a book. When I came in, he asked how I was doing. I shared with him the doubts I had when Catalina was hospitalized for pneumonia.
“Dad, it was hard for me. I wondered if God loved me…if I was doing something in my life that was displeasing to him, that removed his favor.” And he said, “I felt like that in Europe when we lost our suitcases.” (My parents’ bags weren’t recovered until they got back to Manila.) He explained that when God gives us problems it is to build our faith and character. I suppose I already knew this but it was comforting to hear it again.
The wounds that God allows in our lives are calibrated to be purposeful. He may use big or small events to awaken our spiritual consciousness. Everything happens according to his time table and plan. There are no accidents or miscalculations.
This is so reassuring to me. It is easy to be afraid when you are holding a sickly baby in your arms, wondering if she is going to be okay, aching to take her place so she doesn’t have to suffer. The helplessness feels very real from that microscopic vantage point. But when you step back and see the bigger picture, the hidden hand of God becomes visible. You realize he was holding you, never removing his gaze, cradling the entire circumstance with his love so that nothing happened that was outside of his knowledge, protection, or reach.
Like a watchful master craftsman who knows just how much heat is necessary to purify gold, he minds the temperature of each event in our lives. And when the impurities that poison the integrity he desires in us come to the surface he removes them so we can shine with authenticity for him, so we can better tell of his gospel of love. The process is, more often than not, uncomfortable and even painful. But the end is beautiful — Christlike behavior and character, refined by fire, set apart to do God’s will.
Catalina’s name will forever tell me that it is God who makes pure the vessels he intends to use to proclaim his name. He is committed to purifying us again and again for as long as necessary. Although we may fear what this could entail …sickness, financial trouble, business failure, the loss of a family member or friend…we can be comforted that what follows is an encounter with a father who always rescues, strengthens, redeems, and restores those who call upon his name.
“Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, Let the bones which You have broken rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You. (Psalms 51:6-13 NASB)