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“We found friends in a hopeless place” – The Grad Student Life

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This September, I entered my third year of Ph.D. studies. I can’t believe how that is happening! Time flies when you’re having fun … or so stressed out you no longer have the energy to mark the passage of time in the first place. There comes a point when I have lived from one paper to another. Writing furiously to finish one paper only to have enough time to start writing furiously for another paper. Deadlines rule my schedule. Sleep becomes a luxury. Amidst the busyness of life, it’s easy for the social life to go as well.

The problem is I’m an extravert. I need people. People give me energy. From time to time, I admit that I can go into hermit mode and lock myself away from people… but that’s not the ideal. Over the years, I have learned that I can’t allow myself to neglect the social aspect of life. It’s easy… so easy… but it is not the ideal path.

We are social creatures. We need each other. Community is very important. Oftentimes, it is when I don’t want to be with others that I realize how badly I need to be with others. It’s easy to get trapped in your own little world where you are the center of the universe. Being with others is a nice reminder that there is a world outside that is waiting to be explored and enjoyed. Life is better with other people.

This year, I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t lose sight of community. The Ph.D. life can be very lonely. You often work in isolation and let’s face it, no one really wants to talk to you about what your dissertation is all about. They ask out of politeness but attention spans are usually within the 1-2 minute range. If they’re listening after 5 minutes, give them a gold star! During Orientation Week, I got a chance to meet a lot of awesome students. It’s always fun meeting new people. Then, I felt bad because knowing my normal schedule, that might have been the last time I would be able to see them. Then, I remembered that I wasn’t going to let that happen this year. As a student, we don’t have a lot of time to spare. So what if we can kill two birds (the need to study and the need for community) with one stone?  That’s when I decided to start a study group!

Studying in a group is way better than studying alone. I would rather be distracted by a funny personal story than random YouTube videos. We’re all going to be distracted at some point. I’d rather be “distracted” by something a friend says than the hundred other stupid distractions I could have come up with by myself.

It has been a blast getting to know people within this new setting. They are so full of life and energy. There is laughter whenever we get together punctuated by the silence of trying to understand Hebrew verbs and that book that just doesn’t make sense to you. It’s great to be able to talk about theology one minute and good T.V. shows the next.

Seminary can be a very difficult place. Sometimes, it can even feel hopeless (especially when all your papers are due around the same time!)

I’m just glad I was able to find friends in a hopeless place.

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Monday Musings – Living with Conflict

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It was a Facebook post from a friend of mine that got me thinking about this topic. I was going to make a comment but thought that instead of doing that, I’m dedicating this blog post to him. This is for you friend.

Conflict is inevitable. If you’re human, you will know this all too well. We live in a world where conflict runs rampant. Turn on the news and you’ll know what I mean. Conflict is everywhere.

It is easy to think of conflict as an idea until that conflict becomes personal. Suddenly, conflict becomes real. Now, you have to do something about it because you have no choice but to deal with it. Refusal to deal with it is still dealing with it. Honestly, this has probably been the way that I have dealt with conflict for most of my life. Either I try to avoid it or refuse to deal with it. Both are not the best options… but it sure ranks as my top two responses to conflict.

When we refuse to deal with the conflict, it has a way of forcing us to deal with it. Something will happen that will conjure up previous memories of how someone has wronged you. While the situation might change, your reaction to that person stays the same. I have had to deal with situations in the past when I felt I was wronged or disrespected by a friend. However, during the time that it happened, I didn’t say anything. Silence does not mean that you have forgotten the hurtful words or actions they have done. Fast forward to a different time and place in the future and that same person does the same thing again. This time your reactions seems rather overboard compared to the situation but it’s because you have held on to that anger. As a result, your reaction has doubled or tripled. Refusing to deal with conflict can sometimes exacerbate it instead of diminishing it.

Sometimes, we can’t avoid the person who is the source of our conflict. In my case, we were roommates. We had similar personalities but where we differed, we really differed.  We both knew that there was a problem. He wanted to deal with it but I didn’t. I ended up isolating myself from him and others who were associated with him. That is not the way that conflict should be handled. Eventually, we sat down and we got real. We told each other what bothered us about the other person and how we can minimize future conflict. We got to know one another in a new light. Instead of trying to be understood, we tried to understand each other. I had the privilege of being a groom’s man at his wedding. If you would have told me that a few years earlier, I would have thought it impossible.

I still hate conflict. If anything, my top two responses to conflict hasn’t changed. But I have also learned that conflict can be the best thing that can happen in your relationship if you handle conflict properly. Conflict resolution has the potential to bring two people together in a more intimate and authentic way. However, there are also times when the best way to handle conflict is to part ways amicably and “wish nothing but the best” for that person. Trying to figure out which is the best option requires time, maturity and wisdom.

Whatever happens, conflict is here to stay. The question is: how will you deal with it? Will you let it affect your life in a negative way or will you allow it to be a catalyst for better living? The choice is yours to make.

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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.

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Fear of failure Part 2: The inner life of a (recovering) perfectionist

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Image from: evokeandimagine.com

Hi! My name is Sid and I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. I’m really trying hard not to be a perfectionist. But just like how some can slip from time to time, so, too, can this recovering perfectionist!

It was tough. I knew it was going to be tough, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. But knowing it’s tough and living through the tough are two different things. I knew within the first week that PhD was going to kick my butt. A lot. And boy, did it ever do that!

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine a week ago. I told her that I had just received my mark for a paper I handed in and that I didn’t fail. “Of course, you didn’t fail. You’re smart!,” she said. She continued on and said that “it is always the smart people who think they’re going to fail while those who usually fail thought they did a great job.” To which I quickly replied, “and that’s why we don’t fail. Because we always think we’re going to so we make sure that we don’t.”

I thought of that response that came so naturally to me. And it made me think that living in constant fear is probably not a good idea. Having a perpetual Sword of Damocles over one’s head is not conducive to joy or peace. As difficult as it is, I am trying to live a life that is not filled with perpetual fear of failing, of not living up to expectations that I have received from others or even myself. How easy it is for me to want to be like everyone else, but me!

I was reading this post by my friend, Sherree Worrell. These were the words that struck me:

“I’m right where I’m supposed to be…”

I can’t tell you how many times this year I’ve said this. Sometimes I believed it, sometimes not so much. But, I’m a firm believer that the Universe doesn’t put us in places we’re not supposed to be…at least not for long. It’s what we learn in those places that make the difference in how we go forward with life.

I think the reason why I’m so afraid of failure, of not being good enough and all that negativity, is because deep down inside, I feel like I don’t belong. I don’t belong in this place, in this culture, in this space, in this time. I constantly feel that I have to prove my worth because somehow I am innately worthless. I try so hard not to fail because, when push comes to shove, I think that I am a failure. There is a big difference between doing something that can be labelled as a failure vs. be-ing failure. One is something that you do; the other is something that you are.

I’m thankful that I have friends who just give it to me straight. After complaining to another friend about how I feel, she said “Stop saying that! If you’re a failure, then what about the rest of us?” I had to laugh when she said that considering that’s exactly how I feel when skinny people complain that they’re fat. Part of my life journey is being able to accept myself, flaws and all, and be able to show love and grace to myself. It is something that others have given to me so freely, for which I am thankful. It is something that God has given to me so lavishly, for which I am humbled. I belong here. And I don’t have to fight so hard to prove that I belong. Otherwise, that kinda ruins the whole concept of belonging =)

Thanks world, for constantly affirming me that I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Thanks God, for constantly validating me of that very fact.

The importance of gratitude

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I recently came back from a week-long vacation in Maine with family and friends. It was great to see so many new places and eat delicious food everyday! The shopping wasn’t bad too =) When I got back home, it was great to see text messages from friends wondering if I was back in Ottawa. It’s always nice to be missed. And as I chatted with friends again and resumed normal daily life, I was yet again struck by how absolutely blessed I am to be surrounded by such amazing people. God’s goodness has been manifested to me, so many times, in the form of family and friends. Thankful doesn’t even begin to describe it. My treasure will never be found in my bank account (being the perpetual student assures me of that… lolz) nor in the material things I may possess. My greatest jewels are in the relationships I have formed over the years with quite possibly the best people in the world.

If my friends were gold (which they are!), they are definitely 24k. I am surrounded by singers, Masters, lawyers, social media experts, social justice activists, doctors, and all around world changers! It literally boggles my mind that I am surrounded by such amazing people. I honestly can’t believe I get to hang out with them because they are so awesome. People usually pay just to hang out with the kind of people I hang out with and I get to do that for free! Seriously, they are that magnificent =)

Yes, my friends are in society’s standards, super amazing. The jobs they have and the positions they are in are traditionally seen in high regard. But beyond the titles, what makes my friends so amazing is the fact that they are kind, gentle, giving, encouraging, and will do anything and everything to make this world a better place. All of my friends possess this great quality. Which is crazy! How did I find so many amazing people in one lifetime?!?

Because of that, I was reminded about the importance of gratitude. Or as my friend Hélène Campbell (@alungstory) would say… it’s an “attitude with a grrrrr”! (And yes, she has her own Wikipedia page. That’s when you know you’ve arrived lolz) I had the privilege to hear her personal story and how she overcame the adversities that life brings. She overcame it magnificently… and with an immense amount of gratitude. That’s the thing about gratitude: once you live it out, it becomes infectious. Through a series of amazing sequence of events, she received another shot at life as she became a recipient of a double lung transplant. Her campaign to raise awareness about organ donation has garnered the attention of celebrities like Justin Bieber and Ellen Degeneres. But more importantly, her campaign has translated into more and more people signing up to be organ donors. You would think that the story would end there. But since I already mentioned that my friends were amazing, there’s more. She has started a foundation to help out families who are on the waiting list for life-saving organ transplants. To learn more, please go to www.give2live.ca.

God has definitely spoiled me by surrounding me with a great family and great friends. They continually remind me that I am never alone. To have such a great emotional support network is such a blessing! When the lies of loneliness and isolation creeps in, I only have to hear the sound of a text message with an encouraging story, a tweet of a funny joke, or a wall post of the latest dance craze from a friend to make me smile and remind me that I am never alone. I belong to them and they belong to me.

What are you grateful for?

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. 

Day 8 – The Lenten Journey of Sid

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I just want to start by saying a big THANK YOU! to all my new followers. Honestly, I am super grateful that you have decided to follow me. My goal has always been for this website to be a safe, virtual place where people can learn from each other and share great ideas that can change the world. I would love to connect with you so don’t be shy and leave a comment! =)

Today I had dinner and watched Pitch Perfect with my friend, Steph. Man, I love that movie! I think this is my fourth or fifth time watching it. It’s sooo funny! Afterwards, somehow we got talking about church and community. I was just sharing how a lot of times, I have often felt community outside of church than in it. I felt community in my online community group (shout out to #usguys) as they saw and accepted me and acknowledged my giftings. I felt community in North Africa as my Muslim friends invited me over their house and shared meals with me. As we talked about it, it’s so hard to define what makes something feel like a community. Sometimes, it just seems so nebulous. Yet, it is something that you’ll know when you feel it. That’s the thing though, you can’t say if you satisfy premise a, b, and c, then you will achieve “community” status. It’s not static. It’s a dynamic, organic thing. Right now, I’m going to a church that I really like. I like the people. I like the pastor. I think the congregation is great. I interact with the people in the church. I chat with the pastor. But even then, I still feel like an outsider. It’s not that the church isn’t welcoming, it definitely is. People there are friendly. But do I feel like I’m a part of it, I would probably say no. Maybe, the concept of community can’t be defined, but only felt. I just find it sad that I never feel it among the people who are supposed to be the very embodiment of it. It’s not their fault. It’s not mine. Sometimes, it just is.

Join me on this journey.