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The Return of the Prodigal Blogger

It has been awhile since I have last blogged. I guess that’s what happens when one has to deal with conference presentations, dissertation proposals, and the looming deadline of writing the actual dissertation. But, those are all excuses. At the end of the day, I’m just bad at time management. Sigh.

Well, I’m about to embark on a vacation of sorts so I have decided to write a quick blog post to let yall know I’m still alive. But what does alive even mean? I sometimes feel that I’m barely existing. The stress of a PhD program coupled with insecurities, feelings of failure, and constant bouts of wondering if I’m good enough, can take its toll on a person. I’m feeling rather raw… and vulnerable… so this post will be about my ruminations on the topic of vulnerability.

I would say that within the last decade, the concept of being authentic and vulnerable has shaped a whole new generation. We have grown up with this constant admonition to be “authentic”, to be a person who does not change for anything or anyone. But what does that even mean? Does that mean that if you are someone with jerk ish attitudes, you should just admit that being a jerk is what makes you you and that you should not change because to change your jerk ish attitude is to be false to who you truly are? I’m sure that’s not what people mean when they talk about being authentic… and yet this can sometimes be the unintended message. Same goes with vulnerability. We are supposed to share our thoughts with no fear of any repercussions. But we all know that in the digital world we live in, every Facebook post, every tweet, every snap we send out in the virtual world can come back to haunt our analogue lives. Yet, we are supposed to not have any masks and show the world who we truly are, whatever that means.

Yet, in reality, even being authentic and vulnerable with others can be another mask we put on. It becomes another performance we enact to gain some social capital in the circles we frequent. Maybe, there is no such thing as true authenticity or true vulnerability. Without the performative aspect inherent in these two concepts, we can come across as critical and judgmental human beings whose unfiltered thoughts and views tell the world that we are selfish and unruly tyrants.

If authenticity and vulnerability are not understood within the context of a relationship, it is of no use to the unlucky recipient of these two traits. When I share something that means something profound to another person, I choose my words carefully to elicit the feelings and emotions I want my words to convey. If I share a very difficult moment in my life to my friend, I will not only give the “objective facts” of what happened but also include the “subjective feelings” I felt during said event. Failure to add the emotional context is to present a false picture of what happened. Also, because I know my friend, I will use words and concepts that s/he can relate with. If I use academic jargon that obfuscates the issue, then I have failed to be truly authentic or vulnerable. I need to let the other person know what it was like to be me, to invite them in to my personal journey, and as the story unfolds, allow them to put themselves in my shoes. Authenticity and vulnerability is not about merely stating facts, but also giving permission to the other to become you.

This is what makes authenticity and vulnerability an unbelievably scary and terrifying act. Moments of true authenticity and vulnerability is like creating a horcrux… a piece of your soul is torn from you and given to another recipient. In that authentic and vulnerable moment, this other person now has a part of yourself that exists outside of you… and this part is something that is now forever a part of both of you. Your souls have now met and are intertwined and to separate it from each other is to destroy a certain part of yourselves in the process.

Yet, to be fully human, is to be relational. We are social creatures. We cannot live in isolation, as appealing as that that thought can be. I don’t think that it is surprising that cultures all over the world always manage to form a belief system that acknowledges this universal truth. Time and time again, people come together to form societies. Time and time again, we find objects of worship. If one does not believe in an external deity, worthy to be worshipped, they create one internally and make themselves their own object of affection and worth. There is no escape from this desire to participate with another, even if the other is found in one’s own very self.

As communal creatures, we seek the other. We want the other to like us, to affirm us, to be one with us. The hard part is discerning who those people should be in our lives. We cannot be 100% authentic and vulnerable with everyone. I don’t even know if I can do that with my own self, let alone with others! But, I encourage everyone to find someone you can trust and can confide in… who will help you bear the burdens of life because we are not meant to be alone.

As a Christian, I am thankful that the Christian God is one who constantly pursues me and woos me to himself. He is like a loving father who sings over me and is like a mother hen who protects me from harm. The psalmist speaks of how “though my mother and father forsake me” the Lord our God will not leave me. There is a beauty in that kind of love. I’m thankful that this type of love is something we are all called to embody.

We live in a world where strife and hostility is our everyday reality. Amidst the hate, let us all to seek to reach out in love, even when that’s the last thing we would like to do. In these moments of loving relationships, authenticity and vulnerability can bind us together, reminding us that love can overcome hate. Love will prevail… but it will come at a cost. The cost is our decision to rid ourselves of hate and submit ourselves to the continual process of loving and loving again.

If we are being honest with ourselves, that cost is too much to handle. It is a sobering reality that we are not as compassionate as we wish we could be. But, it is only when we come to that realization that we can appreciate how courageous it is to be authentic and vulnerable. It is a helpful reminder that authenticity and vulnerability is a precious gift and it must be cherished and adored.

So go ahead… be authentic… be vulnerable. Open your heart to pain and in doing so, you open your heart to unspeakable joy.

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#tbt – Living with Shame

It’s Throwback Thursday! This is a blog post I wrote awhile back about shame. I wrote another article on shame that was published in Bedlam Magazine. To check out that article, click here.

Shame is something that we all struggle with. However, there’s a big difference between experiencing shame and living with shame. One means that it is an isolated event that is largely circumstantial, the other means that this is chronic and on-going. The first can be the fodder for comedy (we all have our painfully-funny-way-after-it-happened embarrassing stories), the latter is not. For those living with the burden of shame, I encourage you to let it go. Shame is not a burden that you should bear all the days of your life. There is a way out… and it’s called vulnerability.

shame

Maybe it’s just me but I am really good at compartmentalization. I have friends for different purposes. If I want a deep theological talk, I have a friend for that. If I want to have fun, I have a friend for that. If I want to talk about the arts, I have a friend for that. I have a personal world and a professional world. I have different sets of friends who have never met each other and I try my best to make sure it never happens. I’m a social chameleon. I can change depending on who is around me. To a certain degree, we all do that unconsciously. However, when we consciously put on a mask, sometimes we can forget to take it off. What we pretend to be becomes who we end up being. It becomes a blurry line.

Behind all the pretending and the acting, there is a voice that serves as the bread and butter of shame. It is the thought that no one will love you for who you are when they finally realize who you truly are. It is in the secret place that shame rules and reigns. All the surface affirmations do nothing to address it because it is easy to dismiss them. “You say that because you don’t know the real me. If you only knew…” becomes the standard response. “If you only knew…” becomes the tired refrain.

The problem with shame is that no one can actually know you because you don’t allow yourself to be known. All they see is the outside: they see someone who’s an extravert, someone who seems like he has it all together, someone who laughs loudly and is often the life of the party. They don’t necessarily see what is happening on the inside: the plague of insecurity, the constant self-doubt of being good enough, the nagging fear that I will never find someone who will truly love me for all of me.

Vulnerability becomes the main mechanism for exposing shame. While shame still manages to have a grip on my life, its grip has been lessened by the fact that I have been blessed with friends with whom I practice openness and transparency. I’m thankful for these people who have spoken truth and love and grace into my life. They remind me how warped my perspective can be at times and how my shame needs to be crushed into oblivion. I don’t know where I would be without their life-giving advices over the years.

Shame is a horrible bedmate. To wake up in shame and find no escape even in sleep from it is a horrendous way to live. Been there. Done that. That’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Overcoming shame is a life-long battle. Thankfully, it’s a battle that you don’t have to do all by yourself. Take the risk of vulnerability. It’s worth it.

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Monday Musings – Living with Shame

Hi everyone,

It has been too long since my last post. And yes, that was supposed to sound like a confession. However, I am back! I wanted to re-start a weekly section of my blog which I will be calling “Monday Musings.” This is a space where I will be talking about the things that I have been thinking and mulling over in my head.

For those who are potentially new to this website, welcome and thanks for dropping by! The goal of this website is to foster a safe place where people can learn from one another so please feel free to comment and share your thoughts with me! I am a big fan of discussions BUT I also feel that discussions should take place in a civil and kind way. The moment that discussions start venturing into personal attacks or creating a negative atmosphere where people no longer feel free to express their views then I will take the necessary steps to remedy that. Hopefully, that wouldn’t happen.

Today’s blog post has been inspired by a TED talk by Brené Brown on shame. I think that shame is something that everyone has or will struggle with at least once in their life. These are my musings on the subject matter.

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shame

Maybe it’s just me but I am really good at compartmentalization. I have friends for different purposes. If I want a deep theological talk, I have a friend for that. If I want to have fun, I have a friend for that. If I want to talk about the arts, I have a friend for that. I have a personal world and a professional world. I have different sets of friends who have never met each other and I try my best to make sure it never happens. I’m a social chameleon. I can change depending on who is around me. To a certain degree, we all do that unconsciously. However, when we consciously put on a mask, sometimes we can forget to take it off. What we pretend to be becomes who we end up being. It becomes a blurry line.

Behind all the pretending and the acting, there is a voice that serves as the bread and butter of shame. It is the thought that no one will love you for who you are when they finally realize who you truly are. It is in the secret place that shame rules and reigns. All the surface affirmations do nothing to address it because it is easy to dismiss them. “You say that because you don’t know the real me. If you only knew…” becomes the standard response. “If you only knew…” becomes the tired refrain.

The problem with shame is that no one can actually know you because you don’t allow yourself to be known. All they see is the outside: they see someone who’s an extravert, someone who seems like he has it all together, someone who laughs loudly and is often the life of the party. They don’t necessarily see what is happening on the inside: the plague of insecurity, the constant self-doubt of being good enough, the nagging fear that I will never find someone who will truly love me for all of me.

Vulnerability becomes the main mechanism for exposing shame. While shame still manages to have a grip on my life, its grip has been lessened by the fact that I have been blessed with friends with whom I practice openness and transparency. I’m thankful for these people who have spoken truth and love and grace into my life. They remind me how warped my perspective can be at times and how my shame needs to be crushed into oblivion. I don’t know where I would be without their life-giving advices over the years.

Shame is a horrible bedmate. To wake up in shame and find no escape even in sleep from it is a horrendous way to live. Been there. Done that. That’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Overcoming shame is a life-long battle. Thankfully, it’s a battle that you don’t have to do all by yourself. Take the risk of vulnerability. It’s worth it.

 

Friendly Fridays

One of the things that I love about having my own website is that I get to have a platform to share my thoughts and ideas with the rest of the world. However, a lot of “my” thoughts have been greatly influenced by my interaction with a lot of great and wonderful people I like to call my friends =) I’m thankful that I have such a diverse group of people who are smart, kind, and absolutely amazing. This new addition, “Friendly Fridays”, is a way for me to highlight the writings of some of these amazing people. So, don’t be surprised if you get a random message from me asking you to be a guest blogger because I really think that what you have to say is important to the world.

The friend who wrote this inaugural piece to “Friendly Fridays” is someone who I met in university. I asked this person if they were willing to write something for this website and the rest as they say is history. Of course, when you ask someone to be a guest blogger, the question of “so what do you want me to write about?” pops up. For me, I wanted this to be a place where people can write about anything they want to write about, provided they write something that is encouraging and uplifting. Here’s the thing. We live in a world full of negativity. In many ways, I want this website to be a virtual safe place where people who believe in different things, have conflicting opinions about issues, can come together and treat each other with respect and love. Plus, I’m giving you an opportunity to say something. The idealist in me would like to think that you would use this opportunity to say something good. I want to know what motivates you, what your passions are, or hear about the way you overcame struggles and became victorious over your problems. I want to know your story.

And so, with that in mind, this person sent me this article. I remembered reading it for the first time and going, wow, I did NOT know that about this person. This article tackles a fairly controversial issue from a very vulnerable point-of-view. Irregardless (yes, that’s a word!) of where you stand on it, I hope that you are inspired by it. I know I was. Due to the delicate nature of this piece, the author has asked me to withhold their name. However, don’t let the “anonymous” fool you into thinking that this is not real. Coz this is real. And raw. And just plain amazing.

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I just finished watching October Baby: a film about a girl with many health problems who discovers that they are all due to a failed abortion. She goes on a search for her birth mother and  is rejected. The only way she is able to move on with her life is to forgive those that hurt her. The message is that life is beautiful; that is a message that I firmly believe.

One of my secrets – that few people know – is that my parents could have aborted me. Before my mom found out that she was pregnant, she had to have an x-ray. For some reason, they forgot to put the protective shield over her abdomen. When my mom discovered that she was pregnant, the doctor was concerned that the baby would be born with birth defects due to the x-rays. The doctor gave my mom and dad the legal and medically accepted solution of abortion. My parents refused because they are Christians. They believed that life is precious and a gift from God.

When my mom was close to delivery and in a great deal of pain, the nurse refused to listen to her. Instead, she gave my mom an epidural. The baby shot back up the birth canal and both my mom and the baby almost died. They were only saved by the forceps that the doctor used to deliver the baby. And that is how I was born.

I’ve only ever told a few people about this story. Mostly, people who know me really well are just glad that I’m alive. One friend had actually been through a similar experience. Her father (and his family) wanted her mother to abort her because she was a girl. Her mother refused and was divorced. She is one of the most gifted, brilliant people I know, and is presently doing her PhD in cancer research.

One reaction that I didn’t expect was the question: “So, is anything wrong with you?” On one hand, I understand it. On the other hand, who are they – or who is anyone – to judge what is “wrong” with a person? I do have things wrong with me; for one thing, I have blood vessels very close to the surface of my skin from the forceps. I’ve been asked why I don’t get surgery to remove them; I reply by telling them my story. My story reminds me that my life is a miracle.

Despite my appearance and some health problems, I’m still worthwhile, wonderful, and special in my own way. And no one that I know of would ever wish that I had never been born, or declare that I am unworthy of life.

Sometimes I wonder if maybe all the medical problems I have are due to that one x-ray. I wonder if the miracle of my birth hasn’t been overshadowed by a mistake. And I ask myself, couldn’t God have stopped it from happening? But God doesn’t make mistakes. And when I think about my life, my family, my friends, and life in general, I know that none of it is unplanned. God blessed me with life, and now I have the opportunity to bless others.

So, I’m passionate about life. And things that threaten life – mainly abortion, suicide, and abuse – they hurt me. One of the biggest lies I’ve ever encountered is the one that my life is my own; what I do with my life won’t hurt anyone else. It’s a lie. Abortion hurts everyone; so many of my friends have been hurt by having abortions. I wish many times that I could have stopped them. My cousin’s suicide in my second year of university left me vowing to never have a friend feel like they have no one to turn to. Even right now, I’m living in a community where people hurt themselves and each other on a fairly regular basis. There is an incredible lack of self-esteem or value of human life. It’s sad and it blows my mind. I want them to see that they are special; God has a plan for each of them, regardless of what parents, nurses, doctors, or even themselves, think. Because God made them; that fact makes their lives precious, planned, purposeful…

And beautiful.