You Were Made For Greater

wholehearted-living

What if I told you you were made for greater? You were made for greater. Greater than the unending busyness, greater than the relentless routines and mindless pursuits. You were made for greater than travelling to that job you don’t enjoy every day or studying the subjects you see no purpose in. You were made for greater. There is something greater in store for you than the endless scrolling through social media and the conversations that bring you more emptiness than fullness. Greater than you can even imagine and certainly greater than the greatest you think you’ve experienced. This piece is about the greater in store for you, inspired by a recent read Greater by Steven Furtick and the fires we are to start setting should we want to uncover the promise of something greater.

Set fire to our silliness

‘What is your passion?’ is the buzz of the generation. Left, right, centre, we are told to ‘follow our hearts’ and ‘pursue our dreams’ – we are the generation walking on the clouds, seeking something greater but getting lost in rollercoaster rides of adrenaline and burn out. Worse, we are confused and mislead in the false dichotomy of passion and practicality. Say this world we live in were a mansion, we feel like we are taking a gamble whenever we decide which doors to open and which others to close. The door of practicality appears to bring us into a room with cement flooring of stable ground but white walls of meaninglessness; vitality is lacking. Peeking through the slit of the door of passion, there are radiant colours and music plays but we fear that the ground there will not hold us. ‘It’s impractical’ or ‘You’re going to fail’ are the criticisms that hold us back from that first step that could make all the difference.

The greater life that we were made for though, is a mansion of open doors one after another – a myriad of colours painted on the walls and diverse types of flooring await our adventurous steps. There are many more doors than just two, passion and practicality are characteristics (that can coexist) not categories (that are mutually exclusive). There is more than enough room in this mansion to try and fail, if we only tried. Too often, it is not our intellect protecting us from regret but our fear preventing us from revolutionary. In the words of Steven Furtick, the real danger we experience in this generation is not that of losing our lives but of wasting them – wasting them for anything less than the greater we were made for. How greater looks for every person might differ, but we all start from the same place – setting fire to our silliness.

The silly things we do in this life are many. We hold onto our pasts that leave no room in our hearts for the present. We chase perfection to please. We spend more time doing things that mean less to us. We settle for less. We let irrational fears be our excuses. We let the people who don’t value us be our measures of worth. We are less aware of our convictions that shape our everyday lives than we should be. We are slaves to our silliness – making room for greater calls us to set on fire silliness taking up the rooms of our hearts.

What irrational fears and doubts are you holding on to? Who are the people who are telling you you are anything less than strong and courageous? Which commitments are you dreading more and more, to bring yourself to? How are you spending every moment in this precious life?

Set fire to our souls

In Youth Corps Singapore, we speak of the ‘fire in our bellies’ to refer to the innate passions that tug at our heart strings. It is that social cause that brings tears to your eyes, that sport that brings you to your feet, that topic of conversation that brings adrenaline throughout your body, that art form you could indulge in for hours and lose track of time. It takes different shapes and forms for each person but one thing is for sure – the mention of that fire enlivens an inner spark, warming our hardened hearts as if bringing us to life for the first time. It only takes a spark to get a fire a going and I encourage you to be mindful of the everyday conversations and choices you make, for they give you clues to what your spark might be. There is light in each of us, a spark that isn’t meant to remain as it is – like the sizzle from a match that strikes against its box, it is purposed to be thrown into the stack of wood to light ablaze the bonfire.

When was the last time you were excited about something? When was the last time you got lost in time because you enjoyed doing something so much? When was the last time you left a conversation fuller than you were before it? Let’s find that spark and set fire to our souls, the greater life awaits.

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Are We Truly Free?

are we truly free

We say we are free. We love our freedom.

Inching into the mid-semester milestone, the way we abide by our timetables and pursue our assignment deadlines have become almost mechanical. The robotic footsteps that bring us to and from university, then the routine of attending to work has evolved into thoughtless commitments. We recognise the lacklustrer poise and the endless busyness. The downcast eyes and the heavy sighs. ‘Peace’ becomes a far-fetched ideal, a luxury we “cannot afford”. We cannot recall a time we described our schedules as “full, challenging and fulfilling” instead of “busy, tiresome and hectic”. This piece is about the freedom we claim to prize and yet, the slavery we time and again succumb to. Allow me to propose that the freedom we are fighting so hard to protect is not making us feel any freer, not in any sense of the word. (We remain busy and confused as ever, in our schedules and in our hearts.)

Enslaved by what they want me to do | Freedom by what I was made to do

We say we are free. We love our freedom.

Wherever I look, this world teaches me to invest myself in the tangible – the grades, the career, the material possessions that will somehow bring me to a place of fulfilment; a place of fullness. There is a tingling in my soul that reminds me though, that there is little truth in these investments. There is a knowing that endless nights up completing assignments, countless days of overtime work in the office and fleeting indulgences in experiences of ‘pleasure’ (or so the world calls them) will only leave me more tired, more isolated and more unsatisfied. The grumbling of the soul will only grow. The recipe to a meal should take some semblance to the eventual meal I am hoping to cook up; in the same way, if this should be the recipe to the concoction of ‘a life of freedom’, the steps I take should bring me closer. The taste of freedom should brew as I draw closer.

The grumbling speaks but we still choose the path that has been tried and tested and known to fail, thinking maybe for me it will be different, maybe for me it will work, maybe fullness will come. We know no other path and persist in treading incessant busyness. Yet, the more we invest in doing the things society expect of us just because that is expected of us, are we not fastening the seatbelt in the vehicle that is on its way to our cells of misery? Are we not leaving our outstretched arms for the handcuffs of society’s expectations?

Desperate, we choose the path of extraordinary. We take the path less trodden and challenge societal norms. We sign ourselves up for extra-curricular activities, external classes, sports teams and spend our weekends volunteering. We colour our lives with additional ingredients beyond the standard recipe; we add salt and pepper, spices and sugar. On days we are silent enough, honest enough, we know that the added flavour isn’t going to change the dish we are cooking up. So long as what follows our ‘because…’ when answering ‘Why do you do what you do?’ has been a result of what society expects, are we truly free?

C.S. Lewis enlightens us as we cook up (nothing but) lies to ourselves. He writes that sometimes the shortest way round is the longest way home. Where one has been driving on the highway in the wrong direction, the fastest way to the destination is a complete U-turn to cover all the miles that has already been covered. When solving a mathematical problem applying the wrong principle, the fastest way to the answer is to redo the entire mathematical problem. Where our recipe to a dish is misguided, adding flavourful spices will not be as effective as throwing away the half-done ingredients and starting over with the correct recipe.

Enslaved by who they want me to be | Freedom by who I am meant to be

We say we are free. We love our freedom.

Recently, I had the privilege of listening to the story of an inspiring individual – her story is one of breaking free from the misleading messages of media about body image and standing up for who she had wanted to be. There is power in being aware of what has informed the people we hope to become – Is it our parents whose everyday worries shape our ambitions? Is it the peers we interact with everyday whom we compare ourselves to? Is it our past experiences that have scarred us to a place we perceive is beyond repair? Is it the fears for today or our worries about tomorrow? The battles lost before and those not yet fought?

When we see that everything we tell ourselves about who we are is a choice that we make daily, we realise that we are eventually in control of whether or not anything besides what is true becomes who we are. A mantra I had in 2016 was “Be who you want to be, not who they want me to be.” Thank you Brene Brown. ‘They’ did not refer to specific people I wanted to blame for the insecure chatters in my head. ‘They’ referred to the general external myriad of lies that I had become enslaved to over time. I am still breaking free one chain at a time.

Even with the ongoing rallies and debates about same-sex marriage in Sydney, I wonder if we are truly fighting for freedom. Do the rainbow flags, glitter and heels, make up and flowers, truly represent the identities of those in the LGBTIQ community? Are we enslaving them further by parading in a way that reduces their people into merely their sexualities? Today as a minority in my university classroom, I wonder how much I might appreciate a ‘parade for Singaporeans’ to celebrate who I am. I would appreciate the kind intentions, but also desire for my self to be recognised as more than just ‘Singaporean’ – because being Singaporean is part of who I am, but only just a part. Months ago, on the day of Mardi Gras, a play called ‘The Homosexuals’ was staged in Griffin Theatre. Put together by talented individuals, the sense of loneliness and that of being misunderstood conveyed by the powerful literature reaffirmed the conviction that we have to keep asking ourselves, “Who am I? Who am I, regardless of what people think or what society says? Who am I, that I don’t have anything to prove because I am already approved? Who am I, that I believe I am worthy of love and belonging without fighting for it?”

Enslaved by lies | Freedom by truth

The Bible says the truth will set you free. (Whatever you believe about the Bible, this is a phrase that has been quoted over and over; one that we can certainly learn from.) The worst fate I can imagine is to allow myself to be enslaved by what is not true and not even know it.

For a long time, I believed that freedom was the absence of rules. This has been challenged over and over as a history student, for the wars and tragic atrocities of our past show us evidently that laws and regulations are necessary and paramount, even, to the freedom of individuals in society. The freedom to stay out as late as I’d like comes from the laws that protect me against crime, the freedom to spend money the way I’d like comes from the regulations that surround our markets and the freedom to love deeply those around me comes from our unspoken agreements about trust. The overwhelming truth that these that ‘restrictions’ are not antithetical to freedom leads me to pursue freedom in a radically different way.

Perhaps then, it is time to fight for freedom not by undermining anything that appears to restrict but dig deep to find out what chains remain cuffed at our limbs controlling who we are and what we do. Timothy Keller, the author of The Reason for God, writes it like this,

“In many areas of life, freedom is not so much the absence of restrictions as finding the right ones, the liberating restrictions. Those that fit with the reality of our nature and the world, producing greater power and scope for our abilities and a deeper joy and fulfilment. Experimentation, risk and making mistakes bring growth only if, over time, they show us our limits as well as our abilities. If we only grow intellectually, vocationally and physically through judicious constraints – why would it not also be true for spiritual and moral growth? Instead of insisting on freedom to create spiritual reality, shouldn’t we be seeking to discover it and disciplining ourselves to live according to it?”

We say we are free. We love our freedom. Let’s say it and mean it.

Church Testimony: The Transcript

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5 months from the last time I’ve been given the privilege to speak before an audience and so much has happened ever since. Life has a way of tossing you into the least expected places in the most surprising of twists and turn – today, in a much more humble setting, before an audience of 30, I shared my favourite story yet

“Church, today I am privileged and excited to be sharing my story with you – this is a story of how I grew up and how I ended up in Sydney, a story about who I thought I was and who I’ve found I am. This is a story that God has woven into a masterpiece through my life.

God has been working in and through me before I even came to recognise Him.

For many years in my life, I have been an active volunteer and it is something many people remember or recognise me for. When I was 16, I rallied my class to sponsor a child together in Uganda; by 17, I developed a social emotional learning curriculum that was adopted by a primary school in Singapore; at 18, I lead a team of adults mostly in their mid-twenties to Vietnam’s Ministry of Environment to share a waste management plan we had developed; at 19 (last year), I started a social enterprise with my sister called Strong Mind Fit Body. We bring elderly Singaporeans together with youth volunteers for strength training exercises.

I didn’t know then, but God had been working through me and using me in countless ways to bring blessing and light to the darkness of so many.

 God came at a time I was exhausted and hopeless.

In my family, my parents are Buddhist and my siblings and I grew up mostly regarding ourselves as ‘non-religious’. (I have an older sister and a younger brother) The rest of my extended family on my mother’s side are Christian, but because of past conflicts and other negative experiences for my parents, we pretty much grew up being taught to reject Christianity.

The teaching was, “There are many things in life we cannot explain and there might be a higher being. But this higher being is not here to love you but to punish you – so be careful, do good and you’ll receive goodness but do anything bad and be condemned.” If you understand the ‘karma’, the idea is that “if you want anything you must deserve it and to deserve it you must work for and earn it”. How absolutely wrong we were.

Growing up believing that, even love had to be earned.

In the days I started volunteering, I was schooling in one of the most prestigious institutions in Singapore. Every day, we were reminded of ‘noblesse oblige’, which is Latin for “the privileged have an obligation of serving”. The label that enslaved me was ‘privileged’. The more social needs I saw volunteering, the more I was reaffirmed that nothing in this life that I experience and enjoy are deserved – not this privilege of literacy when millions of children don’t have a pencil to hold, not this privilege of safety when so many live on the streets in fear, not this privilege of a proper meal when millions struggle to even be fed. With no concept of God’s grace, the only logical response to this horrific realization was to be constantly in service to others and to deny myself any more of it if I could help it.

Closer friends knew how terrible I became at taking care of myself – my days would be packed from even before the sky awakens to prepare for our workout sessions all over Singapore, meetings with volunteers to whom I became a personal counsellor, travelling to schools to do mentorships, conducting volunteer trainings, facilitating camps and leadership trainings, speaking at forums and conferences.

Deep within on days I was tired of this life, there would be a voice that says “Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are that you deserve anything more? Who are you that you deserve a better meal? Or a decent sleep?” What I didn’t know then, was that God was in all of it. All the times I held the hands of our elderly participants at workout sessions or gave hugs to those who cried, He was holding my hands and embracing me in His warmth. All the times I missed meals and someone would think of surprising me with a proper meal (that was not fast food), all the times my volunteers surprised me with handwritten notes and affirming messages, all the times random strangers came up to me wanting to pray for me and all the times He let people walk in on me crying from exasperation; I was clueless and faithless, yet He was knowing and faithful.

Just as God chose me; for all of my life, I want to choose Him.

One of the first things I did after coming to Sydney, was to enrol myself into a self-compassion course. I had come to a rock bottom where I almost had no reason at all to be loving or taking care of myself. The voice that said, “You deserve nothing” had grown too loud to be silenced. It was then that a coursemate invited me to a church camp over the Easter Break. The first sermon that broke me was about 1 Peter 2:9. It says “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  

The name of the camp was ‘Chosen’ and the pastor talked about how each of us were God’s chosen people. Not because of what we did or will do or can do, but because He loved us so. We did nothing to be worthy of being chosen but we were and because there is no condition for this unconditional love, there is also no reason the love will be lost. We are chosen, and God isn’t going to withdraw this choice ever – the response we get to make lies only in ‘accept’ or ‘ignore’. There is no option to ‘reject’, for it wouldn’t be withdrawn.

In this world that we live in, everything is transactional – in every relationship and every person, it is about what you can give me and what I can give in return. All my life, this is the only type of relationship I’ve recognised; I can’t even count the number of strangers I’ve spoken to, conversations I’ve had, relationships I’ve been in that came from the intention of putting forth a request – “Could you help us with this?”, “Could we meet you to ask you questions about this?”, “Can you be the one to do this?”

When God came to me, He came, too, with a request. But His was not about what I could give Him or what He wanted from me; His was an invitation to receive. To receive something so so precious, something unimaginable. He didn’t come to count tabs or take back what I did not deserve, He didn’t come to punish or to reprimand. He came first to love and embrace and to serve.

My entire self and life is God’s.

I am an avid reader, I absolutely love reading books and writing my own prose. In a recent read, Desiring God by John Piper, the author proposes that we each live a life pinning our hopes on a single treasure – the ‘treasure’ might be family, career ambitions, grades, that ‘comfortable life’ or that holiday dream. We pin our hopes on those treasures such that our lives would be a waste if the value of those treasures were not real.

I once settled for treasures that were going to fail me eventually, treasures that would truly have made my life a ‘waste’. It is by God’s grace alone, in His giving me what I do not deserve, that I live and breathe in His truth. Every day now, I want to live a life that would be a waste if Jesus didn’t love me, if the resurrection were not true or if God were not real. So I know for sure, it will not be a waste for there is no more certain truth I know than the fact that Jesus loves me more than I can even imagine, the resurrection is the most important historical fact in humanity’s past and God’s presence is undeniable – for all of my days, I will pin my hopes on the One who will continue to pick me up no matter how many times I let Him down, who will continue to forgive me no matter how many times I fall short.

In every moment that He breathes life into me, I wish only to bask in His relentless love and bring Him glory in all that I do. Jesus freed me from the burden of my sins and the weight of the chains upon my soul; I have decided to follow Him with all my heart, all my mind and all my soul. And I’m never turning back. Thank you Lord, for bringing to me a place of childlike faith and untradeable joy.”

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I Am Deeply In Love: The Pursuit

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Have you ever looked at the birds in the sky and wondered where they are headed? Or at everyone’s hastened footsteps through the train doors and wondered where they are going? To each their own story, they say. I sometimes watch the birds and these people, making up stories for them in my head, imagining possibilities. How about you – have you ever looked at your own footsteps in life and asked yourself where you are headed? Where are you going? What is your story? They say life is a journey but how often do we ask what is the destination? The destination, not the end-point (which biologically speaking, is death). Where are we headed with our incessant busyness? Where are we going with all this accumulated wealth and experience? This piece is the last in a series of three (series begins here and follows here), telling the story of how I’ve found a purpose so true and worthwhile that I am never turning back. In this one, allow me to propose that life is a pursuit of happiness and I plead with you for patience to embark on your own journey, finding your destination. It will be worthwhile, I promise.

We are constantly in pursuit of happiness. Physically, I find myself in pursuit of buses and trains most often because of unreliable transport frequencies and commonplace delays (welcome to Sydney). Checking the transport timings on phone applications, a momentary sigh is followed by a dash to the stop or platform; between which, the input of information is followed by realising that forfeiting the pursuit would lead to undesirable consequences (i.e. an extraordinarily long wait out in the cold for the next bus or train). Hence, the pursuit. The metaphorical pursuits of our lives are no different – whether we consciously map out the information-belief-action processes of our minds, they happen over and over again to manifest in our everyday decisions. There are narratives we are building our lives upon, oftentimes without even noticing and we all seek happiness in our pursuits albeit in different ways. Follow me, let’s uncover an inkling of what your pursuit is about:

Information is all around us. There are sights and scenes that we witness every single day; from the birds in the sky to the interactions between people, everything is input. Mindfulness is a practice that trains ourselves to be present right here and right now, to be ever aware of the input that you receive. Take time to notice your breaths and ask questions about what you see, what you smell, what you hear, how you feel and what you are thinking about. Start there.

Beliefs shape how we make sense of the information. This is why even as we all seek happiness, our very ideas of happiness and what that means take such different forms. The same way amber-tinted glasses make everything look yellow, belief-tinted minds affect how information looks to us. Beliefs could surround the value of grades, money, that perfect career’, ‘that person I want to be’. Beliefs are the absolute statements we make as the springboard for our decisions, they sound like, “All people have goodness in them.”, “It is not right to be selfish.”, “Everyone can have their own moral compass.”. What is important to you in your interaction with family and friends? What absolute statements shape your relationships with money, time, grades?

Actions are the physical manifestations in every moment. Your incredible brain makes connections between information and beliefs, translating them into actions in a single instant over and over again every day. As you decide how to spend every moment of your life, the mechanics of your brain crank away at that. Consider the small actions – What do I do with the first waking moments of my day and the last? How did I spend my morning, afternoon and night? How do I walk, talk and breathe? And notice how the massive thing we call life is but a chain of many small moments as these; and who we are is the masterpiece of these beliefs and actions put together.

Who are you? Who are you, that doesn’t change even as the people around you do and as the circumstances that surround you shape shift? Who are you, when nobody else is looking and where no institutional or financial pressures bind you? Who are you and what are you pursuing?

Our pursuits sometimes detract from the destination we claim to be headed towards. Too often, the lights of our city distract us from the truly glorious and beautiful treasures of this life. We claim to pursue happiness, joy even; yet we chase after all the mistaken things. The numbers distract us from the true worth and the small talk distract us from the quiet wisdom of this world. Herein lies the problem – our pursuits are misled if we frame our destinations mistakenly. The books or music, experiences and intimacy in which we thought value was located will betray us if we trust them. The ‘good person’ I had hoped to be and the joy of service I had found pleasure in were beautiful, no doubt, but they were not the destination. The truly worthy cause was not in them; it only came through them. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past, the dreams of our distant future – are images of what we really desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower you have not found, the echo of a tune you have not heard, news from a country you have never yet visited.

I have spent a large part of my life striving to pursue what I thought to be good through the creations of the Creator rather than the Creator Himself, I have settled for the bite-sized joy from resonating in His image of goodness instead of pursuing the abundance of pleasure and joy that He promises. I am convinced in a way that I have never been before, that in our searching high and low and in our pursuing far and wide, what our hearts truly desire is the glory of God and nothing can replace Him in the God-shaped desires of our hearts. For all the days of my life, I want nothing else but to seek the Kingdom of God with my arms raised high in praise of the one who brings us life and hope. This is how it is with God’s love: when you let go of the scent and pursue the flower, let go of the echo and pursue the tune, let go of this world or its lights and pursue the One who shines the most brightly; you realise that all your life, you’ve been settling for less.

I end with the words of C.S. Lewis from his sermon “The Weight of Glory”:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

You might not yet know Jesus Christ or you might not even believe there is a God, much less a Christian God. You might feel like you don’t need or want there to be a God. You might even think the entire debate of religion to be irrelevant. I was there before – then, I had a life I thought was satisfying enough and I was a person good enough. I don’t know where you are in your journey and what narrative you currently subscribe to, but wherever you are, I encourage you to own that story – be first conscious of the narrative that you’re allowing to dictate your life and resolve to embark on that search for truth. Not ‘truth’ as in, ‘everyone is entitled to their own versions of’ kind of ‘truth’ (because that contradicts the very definition of ‘truth’), but ‘truth’ as in the one that remain constant before we existed and long after we’ve come to pass. Truth, as it is meant to be. Settle for nothing less than that. After all, can a life that is not lived in pursuit of truth ever bring us true happiness? Would we rather continue to lie to ourselves?

God receives you. Whoever you are, wherever you are and whatever your motives: His arms are open wide to embrace you as His child, ready to welcome you home at your single ‘yes’. It doesn’t have to be resounding or certain or assertive, my journey started from the time I whispered ‘yes’.

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Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.” [Jeremiah 31:3, NLT]

I Am Deeply In Love: The Encounter

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Second in a series of three, the story continues from where the search for purpose began. This piece speaks of the encounter where answers are uncovered. At 19-going-on-20, my crippling struggle was that I could not love myself. We each have a harmatia – in a superhero movie, this is the protagonist’s greatest strength that is also his fatal flaw. It is his deepest vulnerability that eventually leads to downfall. It is the critical ingredient in the villain’s scheming plot and the turning point of the story. We each have a harmatia – the one thing that gifts us with immense power and yet, paralyses us. I believe that one of the ways God shows Himself is through our deepest wounds that even we are unaware of. Mine is empathy.

The many forms through which emotions are expressed come to me as easily as the English Language. As we converse, the furrowed eyebrows, downcast eyes or milliseconds of silence speak more clearly to me than spoken word. In an instant, it is as if our hearts are in sync and I experience another’s brokenness as my own. ‘Pain’ and ‘suffering’ do no justice to what is excruciating. Then, just as the rewards of deep emotional connection are plentiful, the fall that comes with overwhelming helplessness is steep. The cost of harmatia high. As an active volunteer, I could never make sense of the deep injustices I learned of – ‘How can I grow up with such privilege when another struggles to survive?’, ‘Why do I get the gift of literacy while others cannot afford a pencil?’ and ‘What did I do to deserve this life?’ A million questions had no answers. I was on an endless treadmill running away from the truth that I did nothing to deserve any of these blessings. The empathy that had connected me with the suffering of millions had now become the reason for paralysis; my life was overcome with incessant busyness to meet needs, while my own were trampled underfoot. A part of me was desperately trying to dissolve the shame and guilt. The recurring thought ruminated, if I did nothing to deserve this life, then the least I should do is to give it all away to others and give nothing more to myself. Not even care, especially not love.

Leaving Singapore for Sydney, was a brand new chapter. The clean slate provided opportunities for self-care and I signed up for an online self-compassion course by Kristin Neff and Brene Brown that had been on my ‘to-do list’ for months now – creating sleeping habits, eating practices and journaling routines that protected my emotional and physical health became structures to support my attempts at taking care of myself. God was preparing my heart without my knowledge.

The Encounter

Barely three months into Sydney and weeks after ‘graduating’ from the online course, I was invited enthusiastically, to a church camp during the Easter Break. I had expected Christians coming together for fun, games and singing in what would be a ‘feel-good’ retreat (growing up in an anti-Christian environment that preached ‘non-religiosity’ created unhelpful and unrepresentative associations), no more. Instead, the camp itenary consisted mostly of worship sessions (where songs are sung in praise of God’s glory), sermons (where pastors preach referring to parts of the Bible to guide the growth of Christians) and ministry time (where everyone splits into designated groups to reflect on what has been preached). Being in the midst of the Christian community with an openness I never had before was the start on a path that God had laid out for me towards Him, and now I do not wish to turn any other way from this path for all of eternity.

The Bible says, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” [1 Peter 2:9, NIV]

The first sermon that broke me during the camp was one based on this verse – it was not that we chose God but that God chose us, and we are his first choice. In the words of the pastor, “the burden of choice is on God, not us”. He chose us out of love for us and there is nothing for us to do to prove ourselves worthy of being chosen; for if there were a reason, that reason could be lost. We are chosen, that’s it. The room was silent and the air of revelation was thick. People are not Christian because their parents are Christian or because their friends are Christian. They themselves are chosen. Jesus told his disciples to “go and make disciples of all the nations” [Matthew 28:19, NLT], because we are all chosen just because our God is a God of love. He is one who wants “everyone to be saved and to understand the truth” [1 Timothy 2:4, NLT].

One would think that a three-month long self-compassion course could prepare me to accept any form of love that came my way, but at the pastor’s call to action, I could not bring myself to acknowledge that I had been chosen just as everyone else. Our God has loved this big human family He created from the beginning and he will continue to till the very end. God loves me even after all the times I’ve rolled my eyes at His attempts at sharing Himself with me, after all the wrong things I’ve done in spite of Him tugging at my conscience. He loves me even when I fail and He loves me even if I can never love Him back the same way He loves me.

Here I quote one of the best reads I’ve been blessed with from the time I encountered God, Life Is _____ by Judah Smith where he dissects one of the most commonly quoted verses in the Bible – “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” [John 3:16, NLT] It doesn’t say, ‘God loved some of the world’. It doesn’t say ‘God loved those who loved him back’. It simply says ‘God loved the world’. And if you just read that without feeling a bit uncomfortable, you read it too fast. God loves the whole world? This doesn’t make sense. This is crazy. What about the bad people? What about the indifferent people? What about those who mock Him to His face, who flaunt their evil and flout His commands? God loves the world. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to understand that.

I prayed that He would assure me that He loves me, demanding of endless signs to fulfil my insecure heart. I made threats in prayer along the lines of, “God, if you really love me why do I feel so alone?” and “God, if you say seek and I shall find; I’m going to start seeking and if I don’t find you I get to move on with my life.” The reason I can tell this story today is because every single time, even when I didn’t think He was listening, He was and He answers. Our God is faithful and He “causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God” [Romans 8:28, NLT]. In the words of Ravi Zacharias, I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I remain with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade. I came to Him as a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about my future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny.

the encounter

I have decided to follow Jesus and I am never turning back.

Young in my Christian walk, I am learning about our infinitely incredible God who surprises and astounds me every single day. Our God is relentless in pursuit of us because He loves us in a way that we can barely even begin to comprehend. He is pursuing you just as He pursues me. No matter how many times we turn away, no matter how many times we choose to ignore, He is stretching out his arms in invitation of us to lead a life in Him over and over again. Rejecting Him is not an option, He will not withdraw the invitation; you can only accept or ignore. The promise is that if you seek, you shall find [Matthew 7:7, NLT] – to accept you only have to start seeking, He is listening to your every prayer.

I Am Deeply In Love: The Search  

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20 years old, I am an aspiring Occupational Therapist and an eternal dreamer convicted in changing this world one impossibility at a time through faith, hope and love. At the end of this brief, impermanent life, there would have been countless interactions and experiences I may be remembered for but above all, I hope for my life to be testimony of a love that few have tasted or seen before. When asked what did she do or how did she live, I hope for the resounding consensus to be that “she loved”. First in the series of three, here’s the story of (1) my search for a love that would fill an emptiness within and (2) how I’ve now found something I want to remain in for eternity. Everything about my life from this point is (3) part of the pursuit.

The Search

Months ago, I was welcomed into the embrace of Sydney to pursue my university education. Departing from a place I had called ‘home’ for the first 19 years of my blessed life was uncertainty-filled. Home had been a place characterized by familiarity: a sense of love, peace and significance. I close my eyes and I can trace the roads that line the town, I know the exact shade of orange that colours the seats of the public buses and the footsteps of my fellow Singaporeans are in resonance with my heartbeat. The subtleties of our culture (the accent, topics of conversation, measures of ‘what is meant to be’) had seeped into my subconscious. Home was grasped tightly in my palm and as natural as breath; this place was abode to game-changing initiatives, advocacies and movements I had the privilege of fighting alongside fellow dreamers in.

Before leaving for Sydney, luggage in hand and warm hugs one after another as I bid farewell, I vividly recall a sense of fear accompanied with contentment. The thought then was “Wow, what a splendid 19 years of life; I can’t quite imagine how anything in Sydney can bring me anywhere new or anything more fulfilling.” Fears arose from the disgruntling knowledge that there was emptiness – that in spite of boundaries transcended, challenges overcome and all things achieved; the fullness I had expected had not come.

If that place I’ve called ‘home’ and built a life in cannot fulfil me, how can anything in foreign land? If everything so many have only dreamt of is no antidote to enduring emptiness, what then is the meaning of this life? There was a yearning, a longing and a searching; one with little knowledge of what exactly I was looking for at all. Every day had been filled with incessant busyness, achieving things and ticking off endless lists of ‘what I have done in my life’; people have been met, touched, inspired and indulgences in different forms of entertainment for that occasional breather all did not suffice. The emptiness was real and the grumbling of the soul grew louder.

I am deeply convicted that this life calls that we each ask ourselves the essential question, “What is it that without which, we have no reason to live?” And in seeking that answer, we find out what is worth dying for, that is also what is it we are living for. You are not alone – all of humanity has to struggle and continuously ask ourselves these questions to decide what every breath we take is worth. All other pursuits we embark in are truly subordinate to this pursuit for eternal, lasting worth.

The promise is that if we seek wholeheartedly, we will find[Jeremiah 29:13, NLT] The search had begun.

 

The Hunger And The Bread

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Koorong is a humble bookstore that sits at the crossroads of West Parade and Anthony Road, with endless wooden bookshelves and occasional couches for those who prefer immersing in their reads amidst other bookstore-goers. Soft music caresses our souls as we each pace calmly from one row of reads to the next. The day is beautiful; the sunshine, glorious. This morning, the chatter of old friends accompanies the waft of tea fragrance in Pages Cafe, snugged comfortably in the embrace of the bookstore. Midway through the Ration Challenge, it is my 8th meal comprising of a cup of water, a palm-sized serving of plain rice and one piece of flatbread. This piece attempts to articulate the midway revelation on the true hungers we each suffer from.

The Hunger

A hunger ache awakens me on chilly winter mornings, but it is bearable. The blandness of rice and water robs my excitement toward mealtimes, but it is bearable. Occasional headaches scream for a sip of a sugary drink, but it, too, is bearable. I close my eyes and imagine the refugees who take these meals every day – those drifting in the ocean on boats, those crawling under fences, those hiding amidst rubble, those separated from family indefinitely. I imagine the dishevelled faces and weak bodies. Dishevelled not because they don’t have what they need to wash and clean themselves; weak not because they haven’t been given enough to feed their stomachs. Dishevelled and weak because of the countless things they have lost, they have lost their ‘why’.

Why live? Why does it matter if I have not cleaned myself? Why does it matter if I haven’t filled my stomach? Why exist? Why have hope? The food is barely enough, but enough still; what is truly starved is the soul. In an instant, people who’ve built their lives around their careers have become unemployed after investing days and nights into the incessant busyness of work. Others who’ve built their lives around their families have lost them to fragile boats sitting in choppy waters. Yet others who’ve built their lives around their money, their friends, their prestige, their beauty, their possessions have lost them all in an instant – one gunshot, one bomb, one political conflict, one place they called ‘home’. What is truly starved is the soul. The despair so real: purposes once rock solid, seemingly unfailing, have been invested in through toil and labour with every waking moment. In an instant, the fallibility of these futile goals and fruitless harvests shows with such clarity one wonders why it was unforeseen. The true hunger is that for lasting purpose and significance.

Wherever I go, bright signboards and colourful advertisements tempt me, but I can turn away. Every street corner finds an alluring cafe seated, but I can, too, turn away. How, though, does one turn away from a hunger that is deeply embedded within? For ourselves, we can ask the same questions – Why live? Why exist? Why have hope? Every person who has an inkling of the impermanence of his or her life has to confront these questions to arrive at the mussel of strength that is required to get out of bed every morning and proceed with the endless daily tasks that we fill our time with. We are each hungry for that purpose and significance. Be still, in silence you will hear your soul’s constant grumble. We are each starving until we have discovered a ‘why’ so purposeful, so significant; one that does not fail us, one that is constant.

The Bread

We are living in a state of transparency, where this world’s suffering and humanity’s brokenness have become see-through. We have made way for a ‘normal’ of obsessions and addictions that blinds us – today, the friends who come from broken homes are plenty, the suicide rates skyrocket, the atrocities and terror attacks are frequent headlines. It is now normal for the corrupt and the wicked to reign, acceptable for the worshipping of material pursuits to distract us from what truly matters. We now serve as puppets of the very tools we created to serve us – time, money, competition, comparison. The price we continue to pay every single day stares back at us everywhere we look, glaring.

We are living in the perils of meaninglessness, where the line beyond which everything becomes insignificant has become so thin. On the surface, the refugee crisis finds the displacement of persons from homes by their circumstances; but it is merely a mirror of a suffering experienced by all of common humanity. We are all starving. The underlying challenge remains: to be a part and yet apart. How do we find our ‘why’ in the midst of such alluring mindlessness? What is your bread of life that fulfils your soul’s constant yearning; what is your purpose that will withstand any trial? And if you’ve found it, how do we clench tightly onto the bread of life we have found when so much of this world challenges us to replace it with the impermanent pursuits?

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Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” [John 6:35, NLT]