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.

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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]

Forgiving Our Fathers

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My father has big, warm hands. He gives the best bear hugs against his belly and beneath the stern appearance is a soft heart with his family at the centre of it. His narrow eyes are bordered by dark circles testament of his tireless working and wrinkles have amplified them. Miles away from home, some nights when I close my eyes, I can still hear his voice, trace the features of his tired face and feel the firmness of his forearm. I can still hear his heartbeat against his chest and I can still see the single teardrop shed as we hugged at the airport bidding farewell. This piece is a dedication to my father along with millions of others around the world, who find themselves frantically trying to fill the shoes of a father from the time his first child is born.

My father has taught me some of the most valuable lessons in life. Amongst which, is the lesson to love one’s family deeply. Etched in my heart by countless conversations we’ve had, I can almost hear the exact cadence with which he says “always do your humanly best” and “start from home first”. My father has dedicated his whole life to protecting his children and loving his wife: an ordinary man with an extraordinary heart for his family. The nights he would stay over at his workplace instead of returning home and the weekends he was absent were mysterious patterns that once caused confusion, sometimes anger. Even in his presence, most days he was too tired to ask about my day. I had questions with no answers, “Why work so hard?”, “Are you really listening?”, “Why do I barely see you?”, “How come you don’t say ‘I love you’?” Growing up, more and more answers are found and the confusion has been replaced by clarity. The answer is love.

The alluring adventure of the world beyond my father’s embrace distracted me over and over again from the relentless love of my father, who still, always, had his concerned gaze fixated on me and his tired arms stretched out to welcome me home every time. His love that awaits patiently for me to understand, awaits patiently for me to get over my tantrums, for me to find the words I am looking for. His love waits. His love that pursues endlessly even if I am always ten steps ahead stumbling and tripping – from my baby steps as a child to the ones I take now, as a young adult venturing into the wilderness. The answer has always been love.

Our imperfect relationship falls short often – our temperaments are match-made for combustion, manifesting themselves in heated conversations where we both forget to breathe. We have unintentionally hurt each other numerous times in the process and I live with these memories I cannot seem to forget. The fallibility of our fathers are often mistaken for the absence of love but I am learning that the fallibility is inherent to our nature, and if anything, the times we fall short are evidence of effort. The failures are there because of the trying, and we try because we love. Sometimes, those who love you most can also hurt you most (unintentionally). I have been trying to forget for a long time now, but I cannot.

This father’s day, I have a new proposal – to forgive. There are things we never forget, but forgiveness offers another way out. To forgive is to absorb all the debt and wrongs, to forgo the consolation of plotting revenge and it is a form of suffering. Forgiveness is mistakenly associated with weakness because it feels like we are ‘letting it slide’, we are ‘not holding people accountable’ or ‘not standing up for ourselves’; but truly, forgiveness is a tall order that we find challenging. Forgiveness is not forgetting, forgiveness is saying, “what happened was real, the hurt was real, but our relationship is more important”. It is choosing love in spite of our sense of injustice, our memories of hurt and anger, our reflexive defensiveness. In spite of it all, because of love. It is choosing love: to love and be loved. Here’s the challenge for us sons and daughters – to confront the hurt you have preserved over time, forgive yourselves and forgive those who’ve inflicted the hurt. And to all Singaporean fathers, Happy Father’s Day!

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. [Colossians 3:13, NLT]

The Ration Challenge

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In Refugee Awareness Week (18-25 June), the Act for Peace Ration Challenge sees over 10,000 Australians come together to take rations that Syrian refugees in Jordan take, while actively raising awareness and funds to support the work of Act for Peace in the refugee crisis. This includes the provision of medical facilities, education support and food rations. The challenge organiser (Act for Peace) provides the rations that we eat – no meat, no coffee, no alcohol. This is not just about the dietary cravings dismissed or the privilege of choice forgone, it is an act of solidarity and a step forth towards peace. This piece is a pre-challenge reflection of my intentions of being a ‘ration challenger’. 

Compassion: We Are Family

Martin Luther King Jr once said, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools.” History has shown us over and over, how our trivial differences can distract us from our fundamental similarities – the wars fought, conflicts arisen; then, the countless apologies made and stories retold. The blemishes in the chapters of our past, each affirming that our differences in skin colour, languages spoken or geographic locality are but trivial differences. Fundamentally, we were created the same. The same human body, same human brain, same human heart; the same human frailties and vulnerabilities.

In the end, we are all members of the big human family and each of us, brothers and sisters. Arriving in Sydney as an international student, I have found home and love from individuals who were strangers less than 4 months ago. The depth of our relationships testament to our underlying humanity that connects us regardless of where we’ve grown up and the accent that coats our tongue.

Then, the refugee crisis is not a problem of ‘theirs’ or ‘ours’. There is no blame game or pointing fingers; it is collectively, a reality of the human family of which we are all a part.

Love: The Covenant

Growing up, as I learnt about more and more of the evil and suffering in this world, I found myself wanting so often to cower in the corner of ignorance. Like a child afraid of the dark covering her eyes with her hands, I preferred the view through the veil of oblivion – the thought of confronting these unsettling crises made me shrivel from helplessness. ‘Unnecessary,’ I thought. Time and again though, blessed with the courage lent by inspiring individuals each fighting important battles, I learned that the veil of oblivion might have protected me from the helplessness of confronting suffering, but it also shielded off the deep sense of hope that we need to feel to be truly, truly alive.

It is in darkness, that we find light; we can’t have one without the other. If you are, like I was, struggling with the fear of confronting evil and suffering in this world, I promise you that in the instant you lift the veil and delve in the darkness, you will simultaneously find light. There is a light that exists in each one of us, in every person – a God-given capacity to love. Without being taught or directed, we have an innate ability to care for a fellow human being, to cringe on the inside when we see a frail old man struggling to cross the road or to experience pain when we see someone else hurt. We were each made with that light in us, a light that calls us to love.

Gratitude: We Are Entitled To Nothing

This time last year, I stumbled into a Refugee Awareness Week event in Singapore where I was first introduced to the reality that the poorest nations in the world were paradoxically, the ones resettling the most refugees. It is as if the more we have, the more we earn, the less willing we are to give and share.  The more we possess materially, the less we embody as human beings. Sure, we are a product of the society that believes our nature is red in tooth and claw harnessing our defensive inclinations. We are holding onto our privilege, clinging on to save ourselves but from what? What are we trying so hard to protect by closing our eyes, hardening our hearts?

As we live our lives of impermanence, it is tempting to accumulate material treasures given the illusion of perfection – have that perfect job, perfect suit and tie, perfect family and somehow, maybe, then, that perfect life. We ask little meaningful questions about the beginning and the end, as if we have no concept of our finite time of existence. We never ask, “How did I come to be this privileged person in this safe country and not a refugee running away from home?” or “What is it that amounts to something in my final breath? What lasts?”

Three things will last forever – faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love. [1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT] Perhaps, we could maintain our privileged positions in oblivion and come up with defensive reasons not to give, we could come up with an endless list of things we need to protect; but without love, we are nothing.

Step out of oblivion with me today. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, I dedicate this to the Empathy Taskforce that taught me the courage to be ever ready to make someone else’s reality my own in recognition that we are family; and to the God I’ve recently found who challenges me over and over to be a better person for His glory.

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If Home Was Safe

Joie de Vivre is the name of the University of Sydney’s Cumberland campus food court, and French for “a cheerful enjoyment in life”. Mornings here are characterised by the radio in the background accompanied by familiar sounds from the coffee machine; there are morning-goers interspersed across the separate varnished wooden tables, on grey chairs. Most of us, MacBook users and coffee drinkers. The whiff of caffeine blankets us and the sunshine streams in as if to greet us. Joie de vivre, absolument. What comfort we each immerse in, with no worry about tomorrow – no need to ask ourselves ‘will I live to tomorrow if I stay here’, ‘must I run away to keep my family safe’ and ‘if I run, where else could be home’, ‘if I plead to strangers for love and mercy, will I receive’.

This piece is about those who ask these daily questions at every waking moment, those who must answer these questions for themselves and for their families. For those whose struggle daily is about survival: not the sort of ‘survival’ we worry about concerning our professions or grades or climbing the ladder of ‘perfection’, but the sort of ‘survival’ concerning wading of oceans to avoid deadness.

There are 60 million displaced people in the world in the minute. There are myths surrounding these statistics that we, in a privileged position of safety and security, have the responsibility to unpack truth about. Only then, can we make informed decisions that have tantamount impact on vulnerable human lives. Allow me to take apart just one that I’ve commonly uncovered in my conversations:

At least seven migrants drowned after the heavily overcrowded boat they were sailing on overturned on May 25 CREDIT- AFP

At least seven migrants drowned after the heavily overcrowded boat they were sailing on overturned on May 25 CREDIT- AFP

MYTH | “If we stop the boats (of refugees) from entering the country, we dissuade people from getting on boats in the first place and risking their lives. We keep them safe.”

What is true – Refugees do die at sea.

The journeys are treacherous and the conditions on these boats have poor hygiene and sanitation; there have been reports of violence on board these boats (including sexual violence) especially for boats that drift at sea for long durations of time. In the first half of last year alone, at least 2,500 refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe.

When we consider this option in isolation, it does seem dangerous and one cannot fathom why such an absurd decision is made. The myth itself is premised on the assumption that the decision to leave one’s home and get on a boat with one’s family is a “choice”. The reality is that for any refugee, one has to consider his/her situation in whole and compare the options relative to one another – the country mired in conflict and physical threats to survival or the waters toward other possibilities.

What is not true – Our policies that turn boats around back to where they came does not stop the boats. Quite the contrary, stopping the boats does not keep the refugees any safer and instead, places them in a position of greater vulnerability to danger.

When boats are turned around, they are chased back to sea, where they are vulnerable to extreme weather conditions, piracy, kidnapping and violence. The ‘deterrence approach’ has abandoned refugees to their fate. When the refugees literally run away in desperation, reach their hands out to us for help and beg on their knees for mercy, we say, “No. Stay where you are.” Refugees being turned away from Australia end up in Southeast Asian countries and the numbers of asylum seekers in the poorest countries in the region are increasing dramatically.

As ongoing conflicts systematically destroy the homes of many, imagine the desperation and despair that accompanies the radical decision to leave behind all of home and get on a boat that never turns back. Photographer Brian Sokol and poet Jenifer Toksvig’s work brings the first-hand testimonies of refugees all over the world – in the eventual poem ‘What They Took With Them’, items that refugees mentioned were “national flag” and “house keys”. Who doesn’t want to stay home?

Who doesn’t want to stay home if home was safe.

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A young girl crowds with other asylum seekers under a tarp while making the three-day boat journey from Indonesia to Australia in 2013. Soon after this photo was taken, the Australian Navy took the passengers to Christmas Island and eventually on to Papua New Guinea and Nauru. © Joel van Houdt / Hollandse Hoogte

Here’s my call to action. The first Indigenous Australians arrived on boats; then, in 1788, colonial masters from Britain arrived in boats. Today, ‘the boat people’ is part of everyday language to refer to refugees seeking asylum in other countries after fleeing their own. The tragedy of 59.5 million refugees in the world together struggling in-between, paying the human cost for our apathy and self-interest is a reality we can’t ignore – it is the ongoing act that will become history. There is always something you can do; start where you are and do what you can.

I am on a month-long journey to lend my voice to those who go unheard, forgotten. In the lead-up to Refugee Awareness Week (18-25 June 2017), I will be raising funds for the refugee support efforts in Jordan. Syria refugees will be provided with education, medical services and ration packs amongst other necessities with funds raised at bit.ly/sherms4refugees. For those who, too, deserve joie de vivre.

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