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Monday Musings – Living with hope

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“This world’s a tortured place to be / So many things to torment me / And as I stumble down this road / It takes a toll” – dc Talk, Supernatural

There are times in one’s life when the waves of insecurity comes crashing down so vehemently that one is left struggling to gasp for the air of hope. Each wave threatens to pound you down even further and further into the abyss of despair. It is hard to breathe, almost impossible, it seems. The will to struggle for survival is almost extinguished. The glassy eyes of apathy are but a symptom of this condition. The maelstrom of negative emotions swirling within leaves behind a destructive trail of broken dreams, failed attempts and copious amounts of tears.

Sometimes, it becomes easier to live in the land of depression. No one can hurt you there. After all, you’re already hurt. It is so much easier to curl up in an emotional fetal position than to stand up and daily live out the hurts and the pains of past, present and future. It takes courage and boldness and strength to face the challenges of today when reminded about the failures of the past and fear of the future. But to live in a state of constant anguish and anxiety is not a way to live. It saps you of energy. Vitality leaves your bones and is replaced with the burden of weariness that seeps into every fiber of your being. To prevent this from happening, it is important, nay crucial, to have hope.

Hope allows us to get through the day. It gently reminds us that the hurts of today does not have to be the hurts of tomorrow. Hope tells us that “this, too, shall pass.” Hope is the faint whisper of “things will get better” when we feel that our world is falling apart. Hope is what enables us to face yet another day that we fear to face.

It’s really easy to get trapped in the endless loop within our heads of how things are going wrong. One wrong thing after one wrong thing keeps on happening that sometimes I start wondering why the world/God/fate is against me. Hope is what enables us to get out of the horrible feedback loop we sometimes find ourselves in. Hope is our way out.

When it is impossible to change our circumstances, the one thing we can change is our perspective. You can let problems rule you or you can raise your fists in the air in defiance and shout “is that it?” Hope doesn’t mean that you fail to recognize your problems. That’s called denial. Hope is acknowledging that you have problems without letting your problems reign over you. Hope is what gives us the strength to wake up and fight every day. Never give up. Don’t quit. Choose to fight back. Choose hope.

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Monday Musings – Living with doubts

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In the words of Five for Fighting’s eponymous song, “it’s not easy to be me.” I always wonder how to answer the question “how are you?” when posed in social settings. Do you really want to know or are you asking me because social etiquette dictates that normal conversations usually begin with that particular question? There are times when I am tempted to just unload what I really think but I often hold back. No one deserves to get dumped on like that with no previous warning. My friends are usually the ones who truly ask me how I’m doing. They don’t readily accept an “I’m fine, how are you” response. After the initial question, the follow-up question of “really, how are you?” is posed. That’s when the reality of my situation begins.

I’m currently doing my Ph.D. in Christian Theology. I just finished my first year of course work. It was as challenging as I thought it would be. And more. But, it was also strangely rewarding. I’m really thankful that I get to do what I get to do. I’m surrounded by people who have devoted themselves to studying the Scriptures more intensely and more actively than most people. How awesome is that? When you’re surrounded by greatness, it is really easy to wonder if you belong. I often wonder if they picked my name by mistake. Maybe, I got in the Ph.D. program by a clerical error. The feeling of “I don’t belong here” can be really debilitating. They have a name for this condition. It’s called  Impostor Syndrome. I have it and many in the Ph.D. program have it too. Apparently, becoming faculty doesn’t quite erase the feeling. That’s always good to know. =)

I also wonder how I can remain in the program. Financially speaking, I’m at my wits’ end trying to figure out how to fund this endeavour. Money may not buy you happiness but it sure can help you buy the things that make you happy. Right now, I really don’t know where the funding will come from. And that’s scary. I’m looking for a job that will allow this to happen and I’m not sure if I can find a job that would enable me to make it possible. This is when the small doubts coalesce to an avalanche that threatens to overwhelm me and bury me in its wake.

Yet, during this most doubtful of times, God has sent people along the way to affirm me. He reminds me that I am on the right path. He reminds me that I am where I need to be. I think my first response when confronted with doubt is to run away and cut my losses. Yet, I know that if I quit, I would never be able to live with myself. Like a moth to a flame, I would find myself back in this very same scenario time and time again.

As a friend once said, “I am exactly where I need to be.” I find strange comfort in that. Success is often measured on how many obstacles you had to overcome to get to your goal. Doubts present us with obstacles, real or imagined, that try to tell us that we can’t make it or that it can’t be done. I have no doubt that I will not be able to make it through without the One who gives me strength. In Him, I have no doubt. He will help me make it through.

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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 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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Reflections on Good Friday

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A lot of the times, I really do feel that everything in Christianity is just so incredibly messed up in comparison to how the world normally works. Normally, people want to live. And yet, Jesus says that if we truly want to live, we have to die first. A lot of us would avoid pain and suffering at any cost. And yet, Jesus willingly goes to the cross. It just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe I should re-phrase that. It just doesn’t make sense in the natural order of things. Because in the heavenly order of things, it’s the only way that actually makes sense. The Bible speaks of Jesus being someone who became man and identified with humanity  so much so that we can never ever use the excuse “well, you just don’t understand” to Him. He actually does understand. Like a lot. Because he was put in the same situation as you are now in. He lived in a broken, fallen world, filled with corruption and politics (some things never change), teeming with both nice and mean people. If you think that you’re the only who was falsely accused of doing something you didn’t do, well that happened to Jesus. If you think that you’re the only who was forsaken by friends when the going got tough, that happened to Jesus too. And on the off chance that you think that you’re the only who has enemies in high places who wants you dead, yup, Jesus got that too. He identified so much with humanity, that years later, many would still deny His divinity because He wore the garment of humanity so well.

Why would the cosmic king of the universe deign to debase himself by being human? Here’s a hint: It’s the same reason why people do unbelievably crazy things for others. It’s because of love. A love that is so incomprehensible that words cannot even begin to convey what it means. Sometimes, I do think that our limbic system cannot fully understand the emotions that such love can make us feel. Our amygdala doesn’t even know how to process such a thing. (Yes, my undergrad is in Psych… lolz) That is what I am forced to wrestle with and rest in during Good Friday. I truly stand amazed that such a beautiful thing can happen through the most horrific experience. Crucifixion is right up there at the top when it comes to ways to torture people. The Romans mastered it and perfected it into an art. And through this violent and heinous act, the antithesis of Pandora’s box is opened. Whereas Pandora’s box released all manners of evil things in an otherwise perfect world, Jesus Christ’s death on the cross released love, grace, mercy, compassion, and all manners of good things in an unimaginably flawed world. This is the awesome beauty of the cross. What was meant to be a hopeless and tragic event becomes the event that would bring countless Christians hope and joy.

My friend, Renee, and I recorded a remix of a song called “Lead me to the cross”. Since it is Good Friday today, I hope that the lyrics of this song becomes the prayer of our hearts

And now the end is near…

This Easter Sunday, my fasting from meat and social media will finally be over. It has been a challenging experience, to say the least. As much as I am looking forward to it, I must say that it was a really good experience. I think the reason why I like fasting from different things in my life is because somehow I need to prove to myself that I can live without all the things that I think are “necessary”. I didn’t die from not being connected to social media 24/7. I didn’t die from not eating meat. Sure, it was inconvenient at times, but it was not as dire as I thought it would be. It’s amazing how “normal” things can be even if I wasn’t on FB and Twitter every second. I didn’t really feel like I super missed out on things. And I’m sure that my battery life also lasted longer because I wasn’t using my data all the time lolz.

Life goes on. The things that we thought we could NEVER live without isn’t as true as we thought it would be. We move on. We discover a new normal. We discover a new way of going through the journey. I really needed to remember that and remind myself of that. Not everything is all good or all bad. At times,  I find myself constantly trying to straddle that middle ground between idealism and pessimism. My boss called me to let me know that the store I’m currently employed at will be closing by the end of the month. The next day, I got a call saying I got accepted in the Ph.D. program. And that’s life. Sometimes you’re on an incredible low, and then the next, on an incredible high. It’s important not to lose sight out of the bigger picture. However, I know it’s really easy to get stuck looking at the individual pixels, which by themselves mean nothing, but when seen from afar, you start seeing the pattern of an image. You can get stuck just looking at the finest detail and miss out on the fact that you’re looking at a gorgeous picture.

Fasting during this Lenten season reminds me that each thread leads to a great pattern. Each thread weaves itself into the grander picture. I need to stop examining each thread as if it would yield answers all by itself. Each thread will only mean something when seen properly. And it can only be seen properly when we see the pattern through heaven’s eyes.

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