May 25, 2015

the necessity of pain

“I am progressing along the path of life in my ordinary contentedly fallen and godless condition, absorbed in a merry meeting with my friends for the morrow or a bit of work that tickles my vanity to-day, a holiday or a new book, when suddenly a stab of abdominal pain that threatens serious disease, or a headline in the newspapers that threatens us all with destruction, sends this whole pack of cards tumbling down. At first I am overwhelmed, and all my little happinesses look like broken toys. Then, slowly and reluctantly, bit by bit, I try to bring myself into the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to possess my heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ. 

And perhaps, by God’s grace, I succeed, and for a day or two become a creature consciously dependent on God and drawing its strength from the right sources. But the moment the threat is withdrawn, my whole nature leaps back to the toys: I am even anxious, God forgive me, to banish from my mind the only thing that supported me under the threat because it is now associated with the misery of those few days. Thus the terrible necessity of tribulation is only too clear. God has had me for but forty-eight hours and then only by dint of taking everything else away from me. Let Him but sheathe that sword for a moment and I behave like a puppy when the hated bath is over - I shake myself as dry as I can and race off to reacquire my comfortable dirtiness.. And that is why tribulations cannot cease until God either sees us remade or sees that our remaking is now hopeless.”

CS Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”

May 20, 2015

Remember: not everyone who is your friend is good for you

I've cut off my Facebook News Feed on my laptop, with the help of News Feed Eradicator (try it! it's wonderful) because there are too many things on it that are not good for my soul right now. Too many things make me feel annoyed, or angry, or indignant, or bitter, and I just felt like while I deal with the things inside me, it's better not to have News Feed screw me up more.

Besides this, I said to someone recently that all your friendships either make you a better or a worse person. While this may seem like a very selfish reason to pick and choose your friends, I'm not advocating that you do not extend love to everyone. However, it's important that we take care of our own souls. Don't give ourselves a reason to fall into temptation - whether addiction, unkind and ungracious speech, jealousy or anger. We become like the people we hang around. I've realised that there are a few friendships that are useless for me to upkeep - angry people with angry, loose or shallow Facebook posts that don't edify my life, and whose lives I also don't edify, because we can't engage one another with open hearts. Or maybe I'm just being selfish - I'm tired of hearing their ignorant, pessimistic views, and tired of trying to help them see things from a kinder perspective while they continue to arrogantly and crudely put down the things I stand for (like humble generosity,  or believing the best in people, or extending sympathy, for example). Today I stumbled upon a Facebook post on my phone (because I can't eradicate News Feed on my phone), sighed, took a few deep breaths, and proceeded to cleanse my Facebook feed of a few people who were not doing me any good. They might've been my friends. Might have been really nice to me, efficient people, people that society values. Doesn't make them healthy for my soul.

But we also cannot forget compassion. I was reading about compassion recently. Compassion means "to suffer with", and is about joining a person in his/her suffering. When we engage in compassion, when we identify with someone's hurt and feel their pain with them, we give and receive simultaneously. As we share our lives and hearts with another, our souls are also enriched. Compassion ensures that your friendships make you a better person, because you're learning and developing. I guess there are many things to juggle while learning how to love people - compassion is key, but also protect yourself.

Shrug. We're all navigating this, all trying to nurse our souls, while Other People try to tell us what to believe. I wish you all the best. I am trying, too.

-
Random side note: Why is it that the strongest / most outspoken / most aggressive LGBT advocates, feminists and religious people are also sometimes seen as the least loving, or most intimidating? Being advocates of what they're advocates of, one would expect these people to also be the most accepting and loving and approachable, and the least 'harmful'; yet people tend to shy away from them. In fact, these three groups should have close ties with one another, too; along with groups that advocate awareness for the homeless, the poor, the sick, the helpless, the mistreated and neglected people who fall through the cracks.

Perhaps it's the loudness and aggression that rubs the wrong way. Or perhaps the aggression is a result of having fought fiercely, and having been embittered by annoying people. Maybe they have become less loving and accepting than they preach. I think we advocates of love and equality have a new game-changing aspect to add to our cause: that of gentle, genuine, unreserved acceptance, which also happens to be the crux of our cause itself. Perhaps we don't need to see ourselves so much as slayers and warriors, and more as passionate messengers of love.


(Am I making sense? Is this a dangerous post? Am I going to get a lot of negative Facebook comments and flak and judgment?)

May 14, 2015

Love doesn't wish for a person to remain where they are

I quarrelled with a friend today. Two stubborn heads butting into each other, one resistant to change, one insisting that he must be receptive to advice and actively seek out God and His wisdom. An arrow trying to pierce an iron block. “Your soul needs to be healthy; it’s where the Holy Spirit lives. Sometimes you need to hold your responses back a little; don’t be so quick to offer an excuse. You won’t develop otherwise.”

In the middle of it I said that if there was no edifying aspect of our friendship, then it was pointless for us to hang out. A friendship wishes the best for each other, and it seeks mutual strengthening. I said “Love does not wish for a person to remain where they are. I’m saying that I do love and have compassion for you. Do you understand?” I realised I was repeating CS Lewis’s own teachings. It was what I was reading a couple of days ago in The Problem of Pain. We are all very flawed, and all of us have a long way to go in being better people. That's why love wishes for the other person to change (for the better), not stagnate. A friend seeks to help make the other person stronger, wiser, better. Today I realised for myself that true love, the love of God, doesn’t just want the other person to be momentarily happy; true love wants the other person to be well. Joy is a natural by-product of being well in your soul. I don’t want a depressed drug addict to keep taking drugs even if that’s the only thing that can give her momentary pleasure. I want her to heal. And that healing process is painful, but necessary, to her soul becoming well, and then she can be truly joyful at her freedom from the chains of addiction.

I guess this is the product of both that CS Lewis book and the Henry Nouwen one that Tiff lent me that I’m also currently reading (Here and Now). We don’t just seek happiness or optimism - a feeling that’s tied to circumstance. Circumstances will always find their way to be shitty from time to time. We seek joy - that firmly endures regardless of the situation. And out of that joy one can be motivated to change their circumstances, too.

As a Christian, the firmest source of joy is the hope that whatever the circumstance, Christ lives in us, and has overcome everything. He knows our future and has taken care of it, and He will bring us through it. When we have that knowledge firm in us, there’s no reason to worry about anything. We know that sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

And so a friendship seeks for both people to be anchored in that joy.

Ah, you see, the two books that informed my responses today were books that belong to my classmates. My reflections in this post is also a product of my semester of seeking advice from Evannia and Carmen, letting them know all about my life so that they can feed me with wisdom. This is why one cannot remain alone. You have to actively seek wise advice from people who have walked the road before; read, read, read; feed yourself with information and transform the useful things into wisdom for yourself. My last advice to this friend was to seek wise Christian advice and read Christian material - desiringgod.org, sermons, books, whatever worked for him. Because you can ask God for healing but He can't use what you don't have to shape you. In order to know the Bible better you have to actually read it. In order to know wisdom you have to actually seek it.

In the end, I ended that conversation with “Anything you say”. There was no point fighting, really; he would remain firm to his beliefs, and I to mine. But my reply made me sad. Because I stopped trying to care. And to stop trying to care is to stop loving. And it’s not true - I still care for him and want the best for him and “anything you say” is not my TRUE answer, just the only one I can give as long as one remains unreceptive to wisdom. And I still care for you, and I want your soul to be well, for you to find joy with Christ, because a life with Jesus is an exceedingly joyful one (although not the happiest). You have all the hope you need. And I will pray for that.

--

I must also say that a semester ago, I wouldn't have been able to say any of this. Thank you, Evannia, Carmen, Theo and Josh for being a part of my life and shaping me for the better this semester. I'm also so grateful for my small group, Yixuan and Bao, for always being with me and strengthening me, reminding me of God's love. Thank you Sau for displaying such care for me whenever I needed it, never leaving me alone. Thank you Tiff for your heart. Thank you Charlotte too, for that night a year ago when I came to your room and cried (you might not remember it, but I do); for the freshman nights we used to pray together, for allowing me to give you strength as you strengthened me in return; for the little Bible verses you've left me. Thank you Janel for that koufu lunch, for sitting with me and sharing your heart with me in order to strengthen mine. Thank you Carissa - for so much, for so so much, I can't begin to describe. Thank you Ami for all our conversations. There are many people who have played some part in shaping me these couple of years, and especially so this semester - I've changed so much this semester, and I'm so grateful that I'm a very different person now from last semester, and from two years ago.

May 12, 2015

Christian and Homosexual

Hello! I really love your blog, your posts always really make me think and provide a really insightful perspective! This is incredibly random, I apologise, but I was curious what your stance is on homosexuality. I am a christian currently struggling with my sexuality and I feel most have the view that you cannot be a practicing homosexual and christian? Thanks and sorry for the very random nature of this message. Take care!


Hello! Interestingly enough, I was thinking of doing a post on this sometime soon. I guess this is forcing me to stop procrastinating on it. 

I feel that in life, everyone has a particular tendency to sin, a weakness, a thorn in the flesh that God calls us to surrender to Him daily. It could be the tendency for pride, lust, greed. The love of gossiping. One might have had abusive parents, and have a lot of trouble forgiving and honouring them. My life’s struggle is emotional dependency - I tend to need people excessively, putting them before God, using them to fill the hole in my heart. It is idolatry. These things remind us that we cannot save ourselves. No one is sinless. God calls us to give them to Him every day, to trade our lives for His. “Less of me, more of You!”

Of course, you can’t help liking someone. That isn’t a sin. It’s what you decide to do with those feelings that matters. We know from the Bible that sex between two people of the same sex is a perversion of its original intention: the epitome of physical union, an expression of the emotional and spiritual union which are epitomised in the lifelong covenant and institution of marriage. (i know it's a long string of words, but read them carefully!) We know that to lust after someone you’re not married to is already committing adultery. Sex is a beautiful thing, the symbolism of full union. Marriage is a beautiful thing. It signifies the relationship between Christ and the Church. God has given us the privilege of experiencing love between people, and they are glimpses of what it is like to be in love with Him. These things must be guarded and stewarded properly, used to glorify Him and edify one another, as with all other things.

Of course it’s difficult. In my previous relationship my ex said “you have to help me keep away from sinful thoughts, too.” So we met in public spaces as far as possible; we had decided not to kiss until we got married (if it happened), not to ‘awaken love until it pleases’. And well, the hard truth is that as long as one is not married, any and all lustful thoughts are sinful. Thankfully, we were not meant to overcome our sins by our own strength. We can’t.

Repression is not the answer. It’s dangerous and unhealthy. It is important to acknowledge the thoughts every time they come, wrestle with them, and say “God, I am feeling this way; I put this at Your feet.” They will come again and again. Recently I have had to repeatedly come to Jesus with my sadness; with my longing for death; with my insecurities, bitterness, and jealousy. “God, I am feeling this way.” And I just cry with Him. Whenever you fall, it’s okay. Jesus already knew it would happen. He has cancelled out your name on your sin, and put His name there. And we were not meant to conquer the sin on our own. Jesus alone gives us the power to overcome. When we die to ourselves and ask Him to take over, that’s when His strength can work in our weakness.

The key to dealing with our struggles is not to focus on the things we *can’t do*, but to focus on Him. As we pursue God, delight in His love, all other things eventually fall away. I was in a lesbian relationship before coming to Christ. When I came to church, God didn’t say “you have to stop sinning here and here before you come”; He said, “Come.” And as I fell in love with God and found joy, these things just fell away. There were things I just didn’t feel like doing anymore, and eventually we broke up. Dealing with that was difficult, but just keep your eyes on Jesus and not on the sin, because Jesus will help you through it. A note to remember: why are you trying to keep the Law? Is it for the Law's sake? Then it's pointless, because the law will not save you. The desire to act righteously is born out of our love for God. When we love someone, we want to please him/her. I want my parents and friends to be proud of me. In classes where I love the teachers, I am very motivated to do well. If we deeply love someone we will try our best to stop doing the things that grieve them, and do the things they love. Quit a gang, quit self-harming, change old habits and pick up new ones. We love God, and because of our deep relationship with Him, we want our lives to please Him; but we need His help to do that, because we are ridden with sin. Loving God comes before keeping His commandments. Often we focus on the Law first. 

Most of all, don’t ever feel like you cannot talk to God anymore because of guilt! I think of it like my relationship with my dad - I do things that make him angry sometimes, but if I stop talking to him altogether, isn’t that worse? Jesus already paid the price for our sins so that our sins wouldn’t count against us, so that we could be in a full relationship with God. Don’t let anything make you feel condemned. Just keep on coming to God with them. As you daily choose Him over your sin, He will reward, strengthen and edify you. Also don’t let yourself be cut off from Christian friends! Many Christians commit the sin of condemning a homosexual, or viewing his/her sin as ‘more severe’. We need to remember that we are all so prone to sin, and help one another through our weaknesses. We are all sinners, justified not because we’re good but because of what Jesus did for us. We are all sinners on a road of sanctification, daily choosing the path of God, and daily drawing closer to Him.

All the best :) I will say a prayer for you today. I know it is difficult. It is difficult to trust that He has something bigger and better planned for us, in this life and beyond, and all we need to do is keep surrendering our lives to God. It might edify you to read a little about other Christians who have struggled with their sexualities: e.g. Christopher Yuan, Henri Nouwen. And here is a verse for you: Mark 10:29-30 “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.”

May 11, 2015

classical tamil wisdom


Kapilar / Kuruntokai 38 (translated by A.K. Ramanujan)

la beauté de l'éphémère

(this was one of the pieces I wrote for my Creative Nonfiction class. The title doesn't really seem to gel with the feel of the essay in my opinion....but I don't have a better one, so this will do for now. I'm sorry it took me more than a whole semester to put it up!)


Sandra and I stroll down Amsterdam Street, Manhattan. French Dude has decided to head back to the hostel first, but we’ve only had one crazyass long island tea. $10 for a jug of beer? We grab a seat with the dancing college kids and pool-players, two Asian girls sharing a jug on Amsterdam Street. Two guys walk by, walk over. They’re having a Hyundai company celebration. Evidently tipsy. How’s it goin’, girls. God leave us alone, I want to enjoy our ten-dollar beer and chat about school and ask Sandra about her boyfriend. Guy puts his arm around my waist. They’re asking us where we’re from, so we make it a game to stall for time. Hmmmmm. Vietnam. Guy’s hand slides to my thigh. I put my hands in my pockets. They ask all these questions. What’s your last name? What a joke: I can’t say I’m a ho, so I make something up. Tan. Taiwan. Guy’s hand slips into my pocket. I need to pee. I trip in a rush. The bathroom needs some soap. I dry my hands and exit the ladies’ and there he is, hey babe. Oh God. On the way back he attempts to hug me from behind. I instinctively push him away, speed-walk. Uptown Girl’s on full blast, I shout along. You have a beautiful voice. The guys make a deal: if they can guess where we’re from, we go for karaoke. Sandra’s and my eyes meet. The jug is a quarter full. China. Big gulps, big gulps. Before we go Sandra shows him the answer. “Shit! We guessed that!” No, you did not. We are not Taiwan, or China, or Vietnam; we are always only ourselves.

-
I recognise that straw hat. “Hi, we met yesterday?” Little Polish women behind blue-and-white carts hand out obwarzanek, and our food tour guide tells us that this is the pride of Krakow. Straw hat guy is a South Korean who’s been travelling the world for seven months now. I tell him I’m from Singapore. “Oh, I was there for like, two days,” he says. “It was so hot. I stepped out of the train and I was like, wow, I think I’ll leave tomorrow.” But we have no time for introductions: soon we are laughing about mothers and laundry, teasing each other over fermented cabbage. When the food tour ends, he asks if I’ve checked out the Schindler’s factory. Let’s go together? But it’s a forty-five minutes’ walk away, and admission closes in half an hour.

“So? You gonna give up? You a quitter? Let’s do this, man! We gotta try!”

A straw hat and a beige dress crossing the riverbank, laughter like the billowing trail of a steam train. It begins to rain a Singapore rain. My red umbrella between a straw hat and a beige dress, the sky a uniform grey, we jump over mud pools and blame each other for jinxing the weather. We wander into a town so dull that they put an advertisement over it on the map.

We never get to the Schindler’s Factory. Eight o’ clock, the sun is setting; we make our winding way back to city lights and tourists, but his pace begins to slow. Hey, I say, let’s check out the piano jazz bar back at the main square? His eyes brighten again, but he’s gotta go back to his hotel to take a shower, he’s a drenched mess. We agree to meet at St. Mary’s Church in half an hour.

I am there right on time, between the imposing brick walls surrounded by enormous metal chains and the Zara store. I prepare my smile, my eyes on the alert for a straw hat. Then ten minutes pass. Twenty.

Forty.

I want to send him a text, but neither of us have Polish reception– besides, I didn’t get his number. I pace along the church walls. I could call out for him, maybe, maybe he isn’t wearing that hat and I just didn’t spot him in the dark. And I realise I don’t even know his name.

-
Yellowing at the edges, school uniforms and empty stairwells: forbidden ritual. Your lap bearing the weight of me. My own reflection in your eyes. The night I taught you how to kiss you were nervous, but you slowly learnt a comfortable sort of love; you learnt the language of touch. Your hands made a sensory map of my hands, of my waist; traced the outlines, filled every crevice. Your hands traced the hem of my skirt, explored the smoothness of my thighs. You hated the slightest trace of PDA, but that night, we held hands as we crossed the road. While waiting for a cab I leaned into you and you didn’t inch away; you put your arm around me instead.

Two days later you stopped talking to me. I demanded to find out why; I found you in the computer room, clicking away at a game. I sat down beside you, waiting for you to acknowledge my presence. For forty minutes you didn’t budge. When I couldn’t take it anymore I barged out, into the emptiest corner of the school, and I cried and I cried and I cried, and then I cried some more, until my friends gave up, and then I became afraid of crying.

-
The night I miss my JFK flight, I shoot a panicked text to French Dude. Sandra has already left for D.C. He wants to check out Coney Island. He shows up – bald head and glasses – and we endure a train ride to the southern tip of Brooklyn. I ask him why he shaved his head bald. It’s just easier to manage, he says. Good for doctors. Suddenly, amidst the monotonous darkness: a display of neon color. Screaming teenagers and roller coasters, tea cup rides and big clown faces, all under the watchful eye of the glowing Ferris wheel. A Singapore sea breeze. We clamber onto the Zenobia. Now, when I think of Brooklyn, I think of being flung towards bright carnival lights, my screams reaching out into eternity, and French Dude laughing the most carefree laugh.

-
My best friend in kindergarten was a French girl called Lydia. She'd come to my humble HDB flat and we'd run to the playground, shaped like a gigantic elephant. I'd go to her condominium and we'd jump on the stepping stones. Once her grandfather opened the lift door for me, smiled and said "Ladies first." I felt like a princess. A French princess. This was my first, and most memorable, encounter with chivalry.

My best friend in primary school was from China. Her mum spoke to my mum in English, and my mum replied in Chinese, both aunties on a desperate endeavor to brush up their language skills. We spent every afternoon on the phone together. "What are you eating?" "Fruit Loops! Do you want some?" "Mmmm, I can smell it. Give me!" I would then pretend to push the cereal through the receiver as we both giggled, our minds still unwilling to concede to the limitations of telephone lines. "Did you get it?" "Yes I did! It's yummy!"

 -
Google Maps: Brooklyn. Zoom out. Street View: I land the little yellow man anywhere. I am at a yacht club in Connecticut.


We make our mark in places all around the world. Scribble your name on the brick walls of an Athenian shophouse, laugh at London’s Singapore Noodles. We let these places leave their mark on us: my sneakers sandy from Langkawi, my Nepalese ukulele. On the world map in my room I tag the places I’ve been, and the places I hope to go. We are never only ourselves; we are all a colorful foreign mess.

-
The South Korean reappears just as I’m giving up, without his straw hat. I ask for his name. “Isaac,” he extends his hand. That’s strange. In junior college I dated a South Korean called Isaac. “What!” He stops in his tracks, in incredulous fascination. I brush the whispers of uniforms and stairwells from my mind.

The piano jazz bar’s got some special performance on – three cute middle-aged rapping Bill Piel lookalikes in polo tees and berms. But it’s too noisy to talk, so we head out instead. We walk anywhere, nowhere, and I ask him why he shaved his head bald. It’s just easier to manage, he says. Good for travellers. We talk about college, about the controversy surrounding my school and the tyranny of journalism – we had both considered journalism as a career path once. Now we are only two confused Asians wandering around Europe, unwilling to grow up, uncertain about what we really want for ourselves.

We have circled the town square nine times. The castle chimes: 3.45am. And I realize that I have never conversed with someone so easily, so endlessly, in my entire life. And if our paths could cross a little more, if he had been born in a different place or if we had gone to the same university, we could’ve been the best of friends. We could go on ice-cream breaks and endless walks. But fate doesn't work that way, and tomorrow I head back to Singapore.

A farewell hug: the tragedy of travellers.

“See you,” I say. He hesitates.

“Bye.”

May 3, 2015

a love letter

can I see myself as beautiful? can I see myself the way I see others, the way I know God sees others?

can I believe that a beautiful future is possible? that something incredible lies ahead, something that would make an incredible story that will leave me bursting at the seams with gratitude-

Beautiful things can happen to me too. You can be beautiful, Karen. Do you believe it? That your future could be beautiful? That He can make beautiful things happen for you? Karen your life will be beautiful please believe it

there is no reason to be sad when others are experiencing beautiful things, because your time will come; life is long; He can make beautiful things happen for you and they will be pure and lovely and mature and calm. Patience and prayer, dear girl, there's no need to pour out ugliness because that's not who you are. Please be patient and keep your heart covered, you are precious and you need to treat yourself as such. Sit under God's shadow and He will show you beautiful things. You are beautiful under all those layers of muck, let Him peel them off for you.