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Meditations on 2013: A year in review

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Around this time last year, I was busy preparing for my Ph.D. application. I had just finished my Greek exegesis course and was busily doing research and writing for my writing sample. I had spoken with my thesis supervisor and decided that it would be better to write a brand-new writing sample based on my proposed dissertation topic so I can have a good base of research before heading into the program. This year, all the planning and the preparations to achieve this goal reached its fruition. I am delighted to say that I have finished my first semester of Ph.D. studies! Woohoo!

There are so many times in life when our dreams and our goals can feel like they are so close, yet so far. We can almost grasp it, but it is also a breath away from making it ours. 2013 reminded me of the power of perseverance. It is important to keep going, to keep striving after that illusive dream. Because sometimes, that dream can turn into a reality. But after going through everything, that reality starts feeling like it’s a dream =)

I think it would be disingenuous to say that perseverance is the only factor in achieving one’s goal. More and more, I am convinced and convicted that all my dreams would never happen without the love and the support of the people around me. After all, no man is an island. We are surrounded by people who help us become the people we are, whether they be friends or foes. I am so thankful to have family and friends who cheer me on and are praying for my success. Without them, I would never be able to where I am today. It sounds so cliché but once you factor in all the financial, emotional, spiritual, psychological and intellectual support one needs to achieve anything, it becomes less of a cliché and more as an undeniable fact. We need our communities to survive and thrive. Without them, life is empty.

Yet, as much as I truly value my family and friends for all of the help they have given me, it but pales in comparison with the love and grace that my God gives me on a daily basis. If anything, I see my family and friends as a visible expression of God’s love towards me. It always shames me to no end at how unfaithful I am to Him, and how it is always flabbergasting to know that even when I am faithless, He is always ever faithful to me. Awhile ago, I was talking to a friend about success and how our understanding of success is primarily based on the goal we have set before us. For me, I have said that if I am still in love with God, and actually confounded more this year than the year before about how much love and grace He has given unto me, then that would be a success. If I still yearn to walk in His ways, and grow even stronger in my desire to follow after Him this year than the year before, then that would be a success.

2013 was a success. Let’s hope that 2014 brings even more of it.

The importance of truth

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In a world teeming with lies, the truth is hidden. Sometimes, I feel like it is the Balrog (minus the evilness), hidden so deep that only the people who are willing to toil in the dark can be rewarded by its presence. These are the ones who, against what the conventional world is telling them, keep on laboring even when there is no guarantee that the reward lies on the other side. With their mind fixed, they possess a singular focus to unearth that which lies in secret. And when they catch a glimpse at that which their eyes have never seen before, they esteem it as precious and worthy of all the hard work they exerted to gain such a prize.

I live a life plagued with fears and lies. Our friends, our family, our society, our culture, our institutions, all seem to be working in close conjunction to propagate the lies that seep through our hearts and souls. We are then tainted by its touch and yet we cannot rid ourselves of its stench. It claws its way deep into our very essence. It perverts our thoughts; that which is wrong is made right, and that which is right is made wrong. Destruction lies in its wake and we, its willing vessels, are destroyed in the process. In the darkest darkness, the truth’s brief, shimmering light jars the mind and offers a completely different alternative: what if things do not have to be as they are now? What if we can change our fate? What if the details of our life are not written in stone? What if who we think we are is but a weak iteration of our true possible self? What if we are not merely victims of the capriciousness of life? What if we can be victorious instead?

The best lies are the ones we never question. Sometimes, you can talk yourself into the person that you become. Unfortunately, the words we often hear spoken over ourselves or the ones we proclaim over ourselves are not the ones we would ever want to become. The heart and mind are the greatest battle grounds we can ever face. If we win there, we win on every battle ground we can face. To lose there is to let the fears and lies reign over your life. If it is true that the best lies are the ones we never question, then it is equally true that the best truths are the ones we fought for.  That which I hold on as true cost me bruises and scars. These wounds serve as eternal reminders that the battle for truth is costly. However, the pain is worth it. It is more expensive to live a lie. Honesty is always the better policy. In fact, it should be your only policy!

It is sad to come to the realization that I believe more lies about myself than truths. It is heartbreaking to know that while I may be able to write a long list of the fears and lies I have believed in, the list is rather short on the truths I know to be true about myself. The path to finding the truth is ever fraught with obstacles. To gain Truth is both challenging and extremely liberating. Wherever you are on this journey, whether it’s in the first step of confronting the lies, or in the daily overcoming of the lies, may the Truth always encourage you and strengthen you along the Way.

Sharing is caring. Please feel free to like, RT, +1, LinkedIn this post. =) Comments are always welcome. Just remember to be nice, even if you may disagree with me or others. 

Secede in te ipsum

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I once had a blog that I titled “Secede in te ipsum”. I was reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and it was talking about the need to retreat within ourselves so that we can know ourselves.

For me, since social media plays such a big part of my life, sometimes I have to pull back so that I can have a clearer head space. My Lenten journey has been such an exercise for me. To pull away from the hustle and bustle of the virtual world so I can be a little bit closer to the real world. And not to be all esoteric, but the question of what is real becomes a very difficult question as the years go by. I feel that sometimes all the things that I view as real and important are really nothing but illusions, a shadow of something bigger and better that I am bereft of seeing. This world tells me to value “real” things – and by real, they really just mean, tangible, visible things. But sometimes, it is the invisible things that are real to me. Things I can’t see like love, justice, grace, compassion, humility, emotions. These things can definitely have its external manifestations for sure, but they’re not tangible. You can’t hold emotions in your hands. You can’t see virtues. For the most part, it’s unseen.

But these things that we can not see, they are the very thing that drives us. My fear of failure drives me to succeed. And if I have to waste my body to achieve it, so be it. I know that some people see me as successful. But whatever success I have achieved came at a cost. Bitterness, despair, lack of compassion, self-loathing, and a judgmental heart are not exactly the best side-effects of this so-called “success”. A jaded, cynical heart that looks down on others is too much of a price. It is not worth any “success” one can have.

The saddest thing in the world is to realize the success you so desperately wanted was not worth it. We need to count the cost of “success”. Perhaps, we need to re-define what success is. I know that I have had to continually revise and re-evaluate what success is to me. Before, success meant having all the luxuries that this world can offer or the high status or fame and fortune. Success meant being the best, and doing everything to make sure I am the best. While I do think that we should all strive to be the best that we can be, we must also strive not to be the best that someone else thinks we should be.

I am still on the long and painful journey of realizing that I am good enough. I must admit that the unconditional love that God offers me has been something that continually challenges me and encourages me in this journey. But, I do live in a world full of flawed human beings. It’s hard not to feel that you’re only loved conditionally by parents, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and everyone around you. It’s hard when you have viewed relationships primarily as business transactions. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. And once you stop scratching my back, well, I can find someone else who will. It’s easy to think that you’re disposable and not needed.

Maybe that’s why I keep on trying to discover what is real and what is fake. Maybe that’s why I’m trying desperately to understand what success is. Because I’m really afraid that I’m going to be an expert on illusions. I don’t want to devote my life and be someone who excelled in the trivial things of life.

I am not a failure because I’m in my 30s and not married and don’t have kids. I am not a failure because I’m not rolling in money. I am not a failure because I don’t have a job. While these things may describe my situation, it doesn’t define who I am.

As Five for Fighting says, “it’s not easy being me.” But, at the end of the day, that’s all I can be; me. I just hope I’m successful at doing that: just being me.

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The importance of words

We have all heard it. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This childhood rhyme, so often spoken in playgrounds and in public, tell us that physical things that can physically bruise us have the power to hurt us, but the ethereal, abstract, intangible nature of words won’t. Sadly, this is the farthest thing from the truth. If anything, the physical bruises will disappear with time and yet the emotional bruises we bear can sometimes last a lifetime. Words are as real as the chair you sit on and the laptop that you’re using. Its effects are just as real as a punch in the face. Words can hurt, scar, and kill. Words are powerful.

I grew up in an Asian family. In Asian families, family members and relatives tend to be rather free with the words they use. It’s not uncommon to see someone after a long time and be greeted with “oh, look at you. You got fat.” That is the one thing that I dislike about my culture: the lack of sensitivity they show towards others. Every culture has its flaws and this is probably the one that riles me up the most. There are a lot of things that I do like about my culture, but this is the one I can definitely live without.
When people share insensitive comments, most of it is done not out of malice, but out of ignorance. I guess they believe that because they have a thought in their head, they should share it. However, some thoughts should probably stay locked up in your brain and never escape your lips. Because once the words are out, there is a consequence. There is an effect. And sometimes that effect can be very negative.

I grew up thinking that I was ugly and unworthy of love because I was ugly. It wasn’t that I felt I was ugly… I WAS ugly. And even now, with a lot of friends trying to tell me that I’m not, I still revert to that mode of thinking. It’s hard to let it go. It’s hard not to let it affect you.

We allow ourselves to listen and believe the words that other people have spoken over us. But, we also have the ability to stop allowing others’ words to define who we are! You can define who you are by the words you speak over yourself. This is something that can be very difficult to achieve on a daily basis. And perhaps, this will be our everlasting struggle in life. But, this is a struggle that we must endure. In this battle, we must persevere. Because if we don’t, we will lose ourselves. And that is a horrible thing to lose.

In the same way that words have the ability to destroy a life, it can also build it. I know that I am who I am today because there have been people who spoke words of encouragement over my life. They told me that I mattered. They told me that I was loved. They told me that I was worth it. They told me about the loving grace of God who wanted to be with me. When faced with those types of words, it’s easy to feel good about yourself.

As you go through your day chatting with different people, be mindful of the words you speak over their life. May it be words that seek to lift them up instead of bringing them down. Let’s remind others that words can and will hurt us so let’s use it responsibly and wisely.

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The importance of thanksgiving

I have a tendency to complain. I look at the world and I wonder how come I don’t have this or that. I look at people and wish I had what they had. I’m never satisfied. The Bible says that the eyes want a lot of things. It uses the more technical term of “coveting” other stuff. Personally, I’d rather say “I want that” or “I need that” than “I covet that.” It just seems so strong and so wrong. But it is exactly that… very wrong!

The problem with this endless state of wanting and needing is that you end up being unsatisfied ALL THE TIME. It’s only when we take stock of what we actually have that we can start being thankful. One time I was on the bus and just started to think about what I had on me at that time and what startled me was that I easily was worth a thousand bucks. The cost of my shirt, my pants, my underwear, my shoes, my laptop, my iPod touch, and my jewelry combined totalled just about that, if not slightly more. When I say I’m worth a thousand bucks, I sometimes mean it in the most literal sense! It’s in one of those moments of “counting your blessings” that you start realizing how blessed you are. I start thinking of the many Christians who live in oppressive regimes where religious tolerance is more a buzzword than a reality and here I am in a democratically free country. Whenever I hear Christians that say they are being “persecuted” by this post-Christendom society, something within me gets agitated and riled up. At most, what others are doing to you can be called “social ostracism”, NOT persecution. And even then, how much of that is really brought on by your adherence to Christianity versus the fact that your personal attitude towards others border on arrogance and social awkwardness? Are you sure they don’t like you because you’re a Christian or because you act the way you act? (That’s for another blog post!)

This Thanksgiving weekend, I choose to be thankful. I’m thankful for my family who supports me, my friends who are there for me, and for my God who redeemed me, loves me, and is so ever patient with me. I’m thankful for people who believe in me. I’m thankful for opportunities that have been given to me. I’m thankful for artists who inspire me and challenges me to hone my craft and drive my desire for excellence. I’m thankful for this life that I have been given.

Who/what are you thankful for?