Monday, July 22, 2013

The Gethsamanes that we experience in life


As the days progress towards my stem cell transplant which will take place on 25th of July (Feast day of St James), the grace of God has helped me to stay extremely calm and collected, with very little anxiety.  Those around me seem to be more anxious than I, and this is something I was prepared for.  I am writing this post in my transplant ward, and am told that I will be in this room for at least five to eight weeks.  That’s longer than my Ignatian Retreat of 30 days that I did in Chiangmai, Thailand when I was a seminarian in Theology!  I suppose this is also a retreat in another sense. 

One of the most memorable meditations that we had to do in Chiangmai was the one on death.  The retreat master (who has since passed away, bless his soul) asked us to do this meditation at midnight, and this was to allow us to experience darkness at its best, I suppose.  One may think that meditating on death at midnight would be something that only the maudlin do.  On the contrary.  Especially for those who have some knowledge of what St John of the Cross wrote about the Dark Night of the Soul, you will know that it is in this darkness that one begins to encounter the God of Silence.



As a child, I used to be terrified of the dark.  I needed some light in the room to sleep, and it would be best to have some company with me.  But I had to learn the hard way as I was to have my own room later on.  I would find ways to ease the anxieties and one of them was to play music from the cassette player till I fell asleep (yes, it was THAT long ago).  I know that I have come a long way since then, and I have come to almost embrace darkness now, largely because God is as present in darkness as he is in light.  We tend to forget that in the creation story in Genesis, before there was light, there was God.  The way that God speaks in silence, the way that he moves in stillness is similar to the way that he is brilliant in darkness.  We just fail to appreciate this God of immense diversity when our minds have fixed notions of how God can and should work. 

My night nurses in this ward have remarked how sensitive I am to any light in my room at night when I asked them to switch off all lights so that I can sleep better.  Perhaps this is a sign that I am really at peace in this stage of my treatment, awaiting the transplant.

Why does God choose to remain hidden, silent, to work so slowly (most of the time) and not show himself?  Theologically, we say that he is ineffable – meaning that he is too great to be expressed in words.  What this translates to is this – we only do ourselves much damage when we box up God into neat categories, delimiting him.  The truth is that God, being God, just cannot be limited.  Any form that we give him in our human terms becomes something that greatly reduces his majesty, power and glory.  Notice that only one person of the Holy Trinity has taken on a form that is perceivable to the human eye.  The other two remain unseen, with no form and no body.  This is problematic for many because of the human need for proof and tangibility before any assent is made.  

But even for those of us who do believe, when we reach the Gethsamanes of our lives, we can go one of two ways.  We can turn around.  We can refuse to enter and even give plenty of good and justifiable reasons for doing so.  Or we can do the more difficult but perhaps also the more loving thing – to willingly enter into the Gethsamanes of our lives with deep faith and trust and surrender.  However, Gethsamanes are not pretty places.  They are lonely, they are silent, and often, they are are also dark. 

What are these Gethsamanes but the times of our lives when things don’t quite work out as originally planned and hoped for.  They are the ‘spanner in the works’ moments – when we fail at our projects, when friends and loved ones betray and disappoint us, when we are bereft of things and people that give us happiness, or when illness strikes us at the most unexpected of times.  Often, requiring of us to die to the self in these moments, and it is very natural for us to fight this.  The irony of it is that God often chooses these moments of seeming emptiness and pain to fill our lives with his love, power and presence in ways that we cannot imagine.  The love that we have propels us to go through this period of trial and testing and when we are faithful and trusting, and God will fill our emptiness beyond our imaginings. 

Entering into darkness with trust requires of us a loving patience because we have been too entranced by the dizzying lights of day.  A crude example is when we go into a darkened room like a cinema, and it takes quite a while for our eyes to be adjusted to the dim lighting.  But as our eyes get accustomed to the low level of light, we begin to make out quite clearly what lies in front of us.  Analogously, so too is this in our spiritual lives.  St John of the Cross was extremely graced to be given this insight into our shared spiritual journey, which, unfortunately, not many are willing to appreciate and enter into willingly.  Most of the times, we get pushed into this darkness by some circumstances beyond our management.  But the wonderful thing about God is that he doesn’t mind how we enter into it.  We only need to be willing to be led once we are in that “Holy Darkness” where there is blessed light. 

I may not be able to put up a blog post next Monday, as I could be very weak by the strong chemotherapy and full body radiation prior to the stem cell infusion.  God-willing, I will be able to say something meaningful and something that will lift each reader’s spirits and enrich the faith of each of my readers. 

I leave you this week with a song that was written by Dan Schutte, and he puts what I have reflected on into music.  Just click on the "play" button in the centre of the YouTube screen below (not accessible on hand-held devices, however).  If you are in any form of Gethsamane now in your life, listen to it.  If you need to, do this several times – first with your ears, subsequently and more importantly, with your heart.  Let God speak to you there where if you let him, and he will speak the loudest.  May God touch you and comfort you in your time of need, bringing you light in your Gethsamane moments.




47 comments:

  1. Dear Father Luke
    May this coming week be filled with peace and rest for you, knowing God loves you and is walking with you in this painful journey. Keeping you in my prayers. God bless you.
    Elaine

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  2. Fr Luke
    Thank you for this inspiring and heart warming post. Yes.. God is always with us, in lightness or in darkness.. May Our God continues to protect and shield you during this time of test.

    Pisti, Elpida, Agapi
    Zita

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  3. Hello Fr Luke your blog today brightens the darkness around.May God Bless you and through God we are with you in this journey!!!:)
    Sicily.

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  4. Fr Fong,

    This is to give you all my blessings for your successful transplant. Be healed and transformed inside out and serve ALL with sincerity. Be a blessing to ALL with Christ centered love. Pray for you to be a truly transformed person after the transplant. Take care. Peace be with you always..

    Signed,
    An Assistant of Get Sincere

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  5. Dear Fr Luke,

    Thank you for such a well-written reflection even in the midst of all the discomforts of transplant preparation.

    My family's prayers are with you during your Gethsamane over the coming weeks.

    God Bless.

    DL

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  6. "O happy fault,
    O necessary sin of Adam,
    which gained for us so great a Redeemer!" - from the Easter Exsultet

    We all need to pray for the grace to understand everything in our lives are a blessing.
    And when we receive that grace, and in his time, we shall realise and give thanks for all the "happy faults" in our past.

    God bless you, Father.

    Wui

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  7. so... durians in T-8 weeks!!

    love much
    Ken, Sue and Dawn

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  8. Dear Father Luke,

    Please know that we are all praying with and for you... "Whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." Matthew 21:22

    God love you and bless you.

    gz

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  9. Dear Fr Luke,

    God will see you through this. Will be praying for you.

    God loves you

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  10. Be assured of the prayers of the Canossian Sisters in the different communities. We'll remember you particularly during the Eucharist. God bless and keep you.
    Sr. Theresa

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  11. Dearest Fr Luke

    It is always inspiring and uplifting to read or hear of a fellow Christian's faith and testimony of God's unending love in his/her life, especially during the most difficult times. You make it seem as though your transplant is that simple - just lying in the ward and waiting for the procedure to be over. On the contrary, the pain from the chemo and radiation is enough to make one's knees go soft, and not to mention the complications that could arise from the stem cell transplant. You have displayed God's great love with your unwavering faith. I will never forget what our dear Fr Louis Fossion used to tell us - "the day we die is a day of GREAT EXPECTATION!"....either way it's a win-win situation for those who us who have surrendered our lives to God. How blessed are we when we realise this and keep on loving and trusting God, even in the face of death.

    You are in our prayers and thoughts. God bless you Fr Luke. Lots of love, the pavams.

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  12. Will keep you in my prayer everyday. God bless.

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  13. Dear Fr Luke,

    Keeping you in our prayers especially on the 25th July. You are truly a reflection of God's love and compassion. We are indeed blessed to have you as our priest, you are an inspiration to all.

    God bless you !

    Kate & J

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  14. Dear Rev Fr Luke Fong,

    Never to afraid of the dark as God is always with u, will always be in prayer a beautiful song that touch many May God Bless and be with u always wishing u always good health be strong Rev Fr Luke.

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  15. Fr Luke Fong, we will remember you during mass on 25 July. Love and Prayers, Mary & Stephen Tan in Perth

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  16. frLuke, thanks, thanks so much for this reflection,which will go into "My Lord Speaks" folder; and He spoke via you as i needed the reminder badly.

    with Christ's love and abundant prayers
    wt

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  17. Dearest Fr Luke,
    May our good Lord bless you and keep you! May HE shine his face upon you and be gracious to you!! And may HIS peace be upon you! We also ask for prayers of our blessed Mother Mary and your Guardian angel to stand over and protect you. With our Lord beside and supporting you, who can be against you! Be strong and wishing you a speedy and full recovery!

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  18. Dear Fr Luke,

    Thank you. Your faith and trust in the Lord has moved me. I believe that this is your gift to the pple ard you... including the med team looking after you. I say this from my own experience looking after patients facing various cancers and some of whom who were so near death. Each time I witnessed one with so much peace and patience amidst their immense suffering, it touches me deep inside and I see the face of God. It reinforces that there IS a loving God we can feel safe in the arms of, and whose palm bears our name.

    God bless and rest well Fr.. will be praying for you!
    karen

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  19. Dear Fr Luke, this Holy Darkness is also one of my fav song. I can feel your feelings. My darkness, though not in the form of sickness, is nevertheless a darkness. And this song is my strength, my hiding place, my comfort. You are in our prayers as you journey through this experience. Jileen

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  20. Gethsamanes are not pretty places. They are lonely, they are silent, and often, they are are also dark..................................the times of our lives when things don’t quite work out as originally planned and hoped for. They are the ‘spanner in the works’ moments................................The irony of it is that God often chooses these moments of seeming emptiness and pain to fill our lives with his love, power and presence in ways that we cannot imagine.”

    - these are very beautiful and moving words indeed...............and they resonate with me, especially these days........


    Gethsamanes are all these , and more....................desolate and isolated is the feeling of the terrible aloneness...............here, there is no past for it is meaningless to harken to what has been and there is futility to think of the future.................for what exists is the NOW and the “knowing” knowledge that the NOW has to be lived, to be fully experienced and there is No One who can take your place in what is inevitably going to take place..................that’s how daunting it is! We now have an inkling of what He must have been facing at the first Gethsamanes. It’s a personal face- to- face confrontation of one’s human-ness and mortality that leaves one feeling totally vulnerable.


    The only light in this darkness is the deep-seated belief ( verging on knowledge) that in all this He is also experiencing it with us every step of the way – where our pain is His pain, our fear is His fear, our grief, His grief................. His heart beating in tandem with ours. Some days, His presence is even palpable!


    How to explain that?


    And I know that He allows it - not because one is extraordinarily “holy or righteous” or because one is hallucinating. Perhaps it is because one’s spirit has been liberated, no longer inhibited by one’s usual pretensions of the ‘ego-centred’ pride. Or perhaps it is because this is true humility when one faces and acknowledges one’s ‘creatureliness’ and truly ‘bend the knee at the name of Jesus’.


    Whatever it is, Gethsamanes are the water-sheds in ones spiritual life and its aftermath is always a change, a transformation. You know you will never be the same again! Someone said (quite aptly, I thought) – it is like being branded by the finger of God!


    God bless you, Fr

    With you in prayers,
    tessa

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  21. Thank you Fr Luke,

    Despite your suffering, you are still helping many people.

    You will always be in my prayer.
    Adelene

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  22. Dear Fr Luke,
    Light a candle for u tonight n remember u at Mass tmr for a perfect op. God is with u.
    angeline t

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  23. Dearest Fr. Luke, a friend emailed me not too long ago your piece on "The challenge to be truly grateful for everything in life..". It was literally God-sent as I was going through total darkness after learning of a dear's friend suicide. It was extremely difficult to accept and understand how God could allow someone who was very prayerful and close to Him to kill herself. Anyway, to cut the long story short, that article somehow lifted my darkness and I'm now feeling much better. Thank you for your beautiful and inspirational writings! May God see through the success of your operation tomorrow so that you can continue blogging, inspiring and bringing us (miserable, wretched and wavering flock) closer to Him.

    With love and deep gratitude.

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  24. Holy darkness, blessed night is where our heart is silence to feel the immaculate heart of God. Thank you so much for this beautiful song.
    Fr Luke the greatest gifts we could share are to be united in prayer with you u and the stem cell donor. In his time may our heart be in union through prayer n to place our trust in our Lord Jesus Christ n our blessed mother n together with our Archangels to surround u and the stem cell donor with their Glory of Love and protection to shine the glorious light into your ward.
    I asked this in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit. Amen:)

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  25. Dear Fr Luke,

    Your strength and acceptance of God's grace and plans for you truly inspire us. Our prayers are with you everyday and especially tomorrow - may our Triune God bless you abundantly and bless all who are involved in the procedure. We know He is walking with you as our all embracing God always takes care of His own.

    Thank you for sharing the meaningful comforting song - Holy Darkness - we are with you in prayers, spirit and love and may our Blessed Mother of Perpetual Help intercede for you in your hour of need.

    Blessing always,
    Phyllis

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  26. Dear Fr Luke,

    As the new work week dawns, I look forward to one thing; Your Reflections & Ruminations. Thanks heaps! Look forward to many, many more.

    Christ be our light, shine in our hearts, shine through our darkness...

    Will attend mid-day Mass tomorrow here in Sydney and light a candle.

    Much Love
    Patricia, Ray & our families

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  27. Dear Fr Luke,

    We are with you in our prayers. Be strong and keep faith for we are storming heaven for your recovery.

    God is with you.

    Helen

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  28. Dear Fr Fong
    I will pray to St Peregine to intercede for you too.

    Take care and God bless,
    L Sue Han

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  29. Dear Fr Luke,

    End of Psalm 138 in this evening Vespers read..

    If I say "May the shadows cover me: let there be no light around me" - the shadows will not hide me from you, and the night will shine like the day: for shadows and light are the same to you.

    My hubby and I would like to share our song with you - Love's grown deep by Kenny Nolan...

    We love you Fr Luke. God loves you!....Mathilda & Lawrence, OLSS.

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  30. Dear Fr Luke,

    May the glory of God radiate through you & your generous stem cell donor & the efficient medical team attending to you. AMEN.

    With God's grace,
    Maria

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  31. Dear Fr Luke,

    Your surrendering to God is truly inspiring. May the good Lord take control of the op directing the entire procedures and may Mary, our blessed Mother and all angels and saints be intereceding for you.

    Matthew 28:20 " I am with you always until the end of this world"

    Praying for you. God loves you.

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  32. Dear Fr Luke,

    In darkness lies peace and comfort. As unborn babies in the womb, we were all comforted by the darkness and warmth of our watery cradle of life. We needed only to hear the sounds of our mother's steady heart, wholly dependant on her for our survival. In our darkest moments, in the Gethsamane of our lives as you do aptly term it, all we need is to listen to Our Father with absolute trust and be wholly dependant on His Grace to keep us safe and close to him. Our family, especially my two elder boys, has been praying for your speedy recovery since we first found out about your condition. They say God hears the prayers of children most clearly. Agape, Elaine, St Cecilia's Choir, OLPS.

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  33. Dear Fr Luke....when we pray for healing, it is for the healing of the soul and not for physical healing. With that in mind, I will pray for your healing (not sure if you even need it *compliment*). I pray that HE will bless you with the strength and guidance to accept and execute his will. God bless you Fr Luke!

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  34. Dear Father Luke,

    Bernard n I have been lifting prayers for u. May u get well and grow more and more in love with our Lord, the God of Silence. Bernard and Ying

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  35. Thank you for sharing your agony in the Garden with us, Fr Luke. Alas, Our Lord, never promised us an easy life here and now, only in the next. When hit with problems, I always remember what one pastor shared with me: life's many problems are like many ripples in the pond, the sun will glitter like a thousand diamonds in the ripples. It is truly what we do when we hit tribulations that truly reflect the love of our Lord to others.

    Praying for our Lord's blessings on you, for your speedy recovery; for your flock needs their shepherd.

    John & Lyn Ho

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  36. Dear Father Luke thank you so much for sharing Reflections n Ruminations. The song was any words that i can pen down....as i was feeling down today it has really lifted me up and i know that Our God will lift you up in your trying times like you mentioned just surrender to our Father, and who else will take care of us if not HIM God Bless and Keep you....Michelle Usha Devi Gunning

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  37. Dearest Father Luke ,
    I sincerely thank you for the Gethsamane, which I was in when all things not coming my way as it should be years ago.
    My confession to you 2 years ago , changes my life and things I look in my life and realise is HE that I always miss out for not spending enough time to listen to HIM but myself only. Pls be strong as I am waiting to hear your ever ready fantastic homily , thats moves me into tears when I received the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    My prayers be with you always .

    Little Lost lamb .

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  38. Dear fr Luke,

    I will always be grateful and remember you for what you did for me.
    I am not sure if you still remember, its happened few years ago, when Indonesian Charismatic Group had retreat at IHM.
    our priest, who suppose help us with confession stuck in Ferry (he came from Batam) and Immigration, and its too late to find other Indonesian priest.

    When I called, its brother Alphonsus who attached with IHM that time and know me well, answer that only fr Luke in church, and he just came back and has to go again in 2 hours and he has not lunch yet (that time over 2pm already). And before I know what to answer or do, you call me and ask what I need. After I told you about our priest and need help for confession, you keep back your lunch and take your stole. When walking I ask you, how about your lunch ? And your answer "Confession more important than my lunch but really sorry I only can help maximum 1.5 hour"

    Its really give me a comfort. Maybe only a simple small favor, most probably you also do not remember anymore, but in the right time its give a great result.

    A very good lesson I learnt from my priest after my parents passed away, " We live only once, so live to the fullest. Enjoy God's grace in every small things you do. He no need big things since He is God almighty, He has everything, including us, also belong to Him. Just do small thing but with love and joyful heart. If you can't avoid then learn to enjoy it. So although I in very pain and suffer, I learn to enjoy and negotiate with myself. Although I know the pain its still there and I still suffer but I take it as a blessings from God because He love me so much. Because He love me so much so He believe and have confident I can stand. Only someone who love us so much can give trust that much also. Because that I live to the fullest, enjoy every moments of my life. In pain and suffering, I praise Him, in joy and happiness I thanks Him"

    I believe He love you so much because that He believe you will stand strong.
    Live to the fullest till the end. God bless and protect you always.

    With prayers, Beatrix Tanet

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  39. Dear Fr Luke,

    Thank you for your inspirational words. It has been a tough year for me and I am going through my own Gethsemane moment. For the first time in my life I am at a loss as to what I should do. However your reflections have reminded me about how our GOD works and that we should just put our lives in HIS hands.

    May HIS grace be upon you in your time of need.

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  40. Dear Fr Luke,

    Thank you for your sharing. I have a friend going through cancer and I forwarded your message to those who are caring for him. They were so comforted. I offered Mass for you today and will continue to do so. God will take care of you. He loves all of us so much.

    God Bless You

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  41. Dear Fr Luke..my thoughts n prayers are with you thru this difficult stage of yr treatment as your body adapts itself frm the aftermath of the stem cell op.i want to believe tt you wl recover to blog again as many are waiting wf abated breadth n thirsting for your insight to break the word of God.. i look forward earnestly to yr updates of inspiring posts tt never fail to uplift my spirit n shed a tear or two as their msgs touched t core of my soul..so.rest well to get well..God willing..we will hear frm you very soon..

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  42. Praying for you Fr Luke. Lord cover us with your Mercy and Love.

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  43. Fr Luke I hope your op went through successfully. I know God has despatched all his angels to watch over you at this critical time so that you'll be nursed back to health quickly. I can't wait to read your next blog so please get well soon.

    Always remembering you in prayers.

    Katherine

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  44. Praying for your speedy recovery and looking forward to reading more of your reflections and ruminations.

    God loves you, get well soon!

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  45. Dear Fr Luke

    I tk God for giving you the stem cell compatibilty.
    I tk God for giving you the Fear of God which leads you to knowing the Lord's heartbeat.
    I tk God for this "union" of heartbeat.
    I tk God for Holy Darkness which is actually pushing back the darkness n lighting up the Kingdom.God is here,God is here.God is able.

    He is faithful n w long life He will satisfy you.

    You wl be like the tree planted along the river..bearing friuts at its season and will prosper in whatever you do.

    Therefore in Jesus name,you are free n free indeed.All cancerous cells hv to flee in Jesus name bcos you are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

    Therefore Fr Luke,you r healed n surrounded w angels to guard n protect you.

    No weapons form against you shall prosper bcos you belong to God n hv His DNA.

    All these are said in Jesus name. Amen

    Fr Luke you are highly favoured n greatly bless


    geraldine

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  46. Dear Fr Luke,

    My sister in Singapore sent me your message at your blog site. I went through the same stem cell transplant process in Sydney as yours on 28th July 2011. I had AML which came out at a sudden but was given only 3 months to live. I had gone through so much uncertainty about life, physical and mental traumas. But one thing good that came out of this ordeal was that it brought me closer to our Lord. There were so many times that I thought I had no more room to move nor hope to look forward. Our Lord gave me His almighty hand. I prayed hard to God in the name of our Lord. Also many thanks to all the prayers from my family, fiends and colleagues. My transplant was a total success so far, 2 years after. I came out of the hospital in about 3 weeks, much earlier than expected and I went back to work part-time at home in about 2 months time and full-time work in about 9 months. All my blood counts are almost normal but I still have regular medical check ups and medications from different medical specialists. How smoothly I went through this very serious illness and the speed of my recovery was a miracle as far as I am concern. This is all through the mercy and blessing of our Lord. I pray for you that you will go through the same journey as mine and have the same success.

    Hope I have shared my similar experience with you and offer you enouragement and hope to your journey of life. The Holy Darkness brings us closer to God who will offer His ray of sunshine when morning comes. Have faith in Him.

    God blesses you in the name of Jesus.

    Andrew Chung (at Sydney)

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  47. Father Luke, thanks for a very inspirational post and I hope you recover soon. (I'm not Catholic, a good friend sent me this link. But I am inspired by your faith and courage.

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