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.

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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]