Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year 2014!

A new year dawns, signalling an end to the old and the beginning to yet another.

Whatever 2013 had been, it is good to remember memories that are pleasant and discard those that are not.

Unfulfilled dreams, empty promises, hurtful words, disappointments, regrets, etc. - these all fall into the category of unpleasant memories that are to be boxed, sealed and thrown out.

And whatever the new year holds, let us not allow past fears to keep us back from embracing all that's ahead.

May we take courage from God and from each other to anticipate only good things and take things in stride when anything less than good happens.

For we have a loving Father to depend on when things go awry; to navigate us through storms into better weather; to cheer us on when we lose courage; to give us strength when we feel weak; to turn things around and work good things out of every unpleasant circumstance.

I'm looking forward to the good things in store in this new year.

This is what I believe: the more we anticipate God's favour and goodness, the more we will get to experience them.

For isn't that how faith works?

That our part is to believe that He who promises is faithful to bring those promises to fruition?

That even if we die believing and not seeing those promises come to pass in our lifetime, it is better to have died in hope rather than in despair?

May 2014 bring us closer to seeing our hearts' desires, hopes and dreams fulfilled.

May we taste and see more of God's love and goodness; experience His glorious peace and joy; and enjoy His abundant blessings.

Happy New Year 2014 to all!

"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." ~ Psalm 23:6 ~

"Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him!"
~ Psalm 34:8 ~

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Friends Whom I Hold Hands With

The older I get, the more I realise the importance of having friends. John Donne was absolutely right when he wrote that 'no man is an island'. We are simply not made to live in isolation.

At the same time, I'm discovering that there are different levels of friendship as well as seasons of friendship.

There are friends whom I can laugh and joke very easily with; and friends who share some common interests that I can do stuff with. Then there are ones whom I can share my inner thoughts with and open my heart to more easily than others.

In different seasons of my life, I've seen God bring different people into my circle to meet different needs. Sometimes, I'm the one with the need and sometimes, it's the other person. And sometimes, we're able to meet each others' needs at the same time. Or simply just to enjoy each others' company.

Maintaining friendships take time and effort. For some of us who prefer our own company to that of others', there needs to be a deliberate attempt to nurture friendships in order to keep them alive.

Relationships are also very fragile. As we move past the acquaintance and casual friend phases into closer friendships where conflicts inevitably arise, it is so easy to say the wrong thing or for someone to take what we say in the wrong way. Sometimes, it takes skill, time and effort for good friends to work through any recurring issues and resolve them.

I have discovered that the best remedies for resolving conflicts are honesty and humility. It requires honesty for us to examine ourselves to see if we're in the wrong, and if we are, to be humble enough to admit our faults and to ask for forgiveness. Keeping short accounts with ourselves and with one another helps us live together in peace and harmony while enjoying the different gifts that we bring into each others' lives.

Another key ingredient to maintain and nurture relationships is grace. Grace to step into the other person's shoes to see things from his or her perspective rather than viewing them narrowly from our own. Grace to allow the person room to make mistakes and to grow through them. It's the same grace that we need from others when we ourselves make mistakes. And when our ability to show grace fails, we turn to the One who is grace personified and ask for help.

There was this quote that my husband printed out a while ago: "The person who dances with you in the rain will most likely walk with you in the storm." ~ Rachel "simply me".

I like the quote and I would like to believe that it's true. Yet, as I navigate through the storms in my life, I've had friends who had previously danced with me in the rain withdraw and fade into the background when the rainstorms worsened. At the same time, however, I've discovered the deepening of some of my relationships as these friends and I stand with each other to weather through our respective storms.

We truly discover who our real friends are when we go through fire and floods.

None of us escapes the storms of life. It is those whose hands we are holding as we go through these storms that make them more tolerable. Good friends who help us laugh through our tears and find joy in the midst of tough and unpleasant circumstances.

I'm holding some human hands; hands of dear friends whom I'm so grateful for, and whose hands I will hold in their seasons of challenge.

At the same time, I'm holding onto One hand that has never let me go, no matter how rough the terrain or how wild the weather.

It is the Hand of my Heavenly Father - the One who brings the right people into my life at the right time while taking some of them away; the One who makes good come out of every adversity and who meets my every need. The One who will never forget me because He has me inscribed on the palm of His hand- not just my name, but all of me!

I know I am safe because I know whose Hands I hold.

".... Yet I will not forget you. See I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands."
~ Isaiah 49:15,16 ~

Friday, 27 September 2013

Walking Down Memory Lane

The year was 1984.

It was our final year at St Mary's Secondary School, an all girls' school established by the missionaries in the 1840's. We were fifth formers sitting for our major public exam at the end of the year. The giant hurdle to clear was known as the Malaysian Certificate of Education, which is equivalent to O Level Cambridge Exams.

It was a year of mixed feelings.

Feelings of pride that we were finally at the top level of our school with younger ones looking up to us for guidance and instruction; awe and admiration reflected in some of their eyes in the same way that ours used to shine for some of our seniors.

Then there were feelings of excitement that we would be going across the road to our brother school, St Thomas' Secondary School, to pursue our A levels. Finally, a chance to be studying with boys, an experience which had been denied us for the past 10 years or so of our lives as students!

And last but not least, feelings of sadness at the thought of leaving our beloved school, our teachers and some of our friends who would not be joining the mass exodus to the school across the road.

Thanks to Facebook, I recently got connected to a number of my ex-schoolmates from twenty-nine years ago! What an amazing invention the internet is!

Even as I'm writing this, my dear friends from our memorable yester-years are busy planning our thirtieth-year reunion scheduled to be held early next year, which, unfortunately, I won't be able to attend.

Some of us had known each other since we started primary school together, building memories since the very first day of school when a few burst into tears as our parents prepared to leave. I wasn't one of them, but then, I had my cousin to start school with me, so I guess that helped!

There were pleasant memories of fun, joy, and laughter when during recess, we played with five stones or seven stones on the ground, or with skipping ropes made from elastic bands - our children would find that hard to imagine now with the advent of the computer era! The tricks we played on one particular teacher we didn't like that had us in stitches - stink bombs which we proclaimed to be smells wafting from the chemistry lab in the secondary block and what not! Oh, and there was Touche and Dum Dum, our two pet turtles which we had to take turns to look after. They may have been cute to look at, but the odour that we had to endure when it was time to clean their aquarium? That was another thing altogether......pee-ew!

Then there were less pleasant times when a few unfortunate ones had to stand on a chair in front of the principal's office with a placard of the crime committed dangling from the necks as punishment. The anxious moments when we were called to pay a compulsory visit to the school dental nurse; one at a time, as if going to our execution, with not even a friend as a companion to hold our cold, clammy hands!

More memories were made as we became teenagers and moved on to the next block of buildings where the secondary school still stands today. Or at least I believe they are still there!

I can still smell the pungent odour coming from the toilets even before we entered them. A classmate decided one day that she would try to hold her breath in there while she hurried through her routine. Alas! Her breath ran out before she was done and as she gasped for air to fill her screaming lungs, she almost passed out from the acrid fumes! It is my fervent hope that the deplorable condition of the toilets would have improved by this day and age.

Another memory that stood out was the time my class was dissecting frogs that were in chloroform-induced comas in the science lab. A few days after the poor dismembered amphibians had been discarded, we were startled to hear a cacophony of what sounded like wailing frogs! No kidding! That was one sure eerie experience that brought out the goosebumps! I wonder if any of us went on to become medical doctors or surgeons after that. It was during that dissection that I knew I wasn't cut out to be one!

The best memories shared with my dear friends were ones that included unrestrained and uncontrollable laughter. Not polite little chuckles, mind you. I'm talking about loud, unladylike belly laughs that had us doubled up in sheer ecstasy and agony all in the same breath, and with some having to cross their legs because they felt the sudden urge to make a dash for that awful place which we all wished we didn't have to frequent! The worst was when that happened in the library as we had to stifle those rumblings from deep within that were threatening to get us more of the librarian's attention than we would've liked to!

Ahh.... the innocence of youth, relatively untainted by life's many twists and turns with all its complications, sorrow and heartache tangled in the sea of love, joy and beauty.... If I had the ability, opportunity, and courage to turn back time, it would be because of genuine, sincere friends that I've found along my journey who would stand by each other not just through joy-filled moments, but gut-wrenching, heart-rending ones, too. And memories like the ones my fellow Marians and I had made in our teenage years, or the ones my flatmates and I had shared in our student years after high school....

With feelings of sentiment, I wrote a poem in 1984 when my heart ached at the thought of leaving school. I'm so glad I've kept it after all these years. So, here's to the Marians, Class(es) of '84:

The Beauty of Friendship

True friendship is so beautiful
But rare....
It is like flowers blooming

Joining school, leaving school
Days pass, years go by
But our friendship remains
And forever it will lie

Fondly will I recall
Our school days together
Having fun....
As the years gather

Forget me not, dear friends
Let not the memories of our friendship go
And the lovely times we've spent together
Not so long ago....


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Taking Ownership

[The boy cowered in fright as his father lashed out at his mother, both in words and in action. The slap across his mother's tear-stained face resounded across the room to where the boy tried to stay hidden behind the sofa.

"I wish mum and dad would stop fighting...... I wish I was old enough to leave home....... I wish.... I wish I had never been born into this family......", the boy thought wistfully.

Fast forward twenty years, the boy is now a full grown man with a family of his own and a good job. His wife, too, has a full-time job and they struggle with balancing their careers and bringing up their two year-old son. As much as he loves his family, he doesn't understand why he is so short-tempered with them sometimes. Oh, he tries hard to be patient, but there is always this temptation to lash out at them the way his father did towards him and his mother. He wonders if he's becoming like his father.....]

The above scenario may be fictitious, but a lot of us have seen and heard enough of this sort of replication in families to know that history tends to repeat itself.

In fact, if we're honest with ourselves, we can even see how we seem to do to our own families the very thing(s) that our parents did to us which either frightened or annoyed us.

Sometimes, it's easier just to blame our parents for teaching us the wrong things. Or to blame our spouses, partners or friends for causing us to react in the way that we did which we're by no means proud of, but which we may not be willing to admit.

While working through the pain of my past, I've come to realise that the only way to overcome some of the things that I don't like about myself is to take ownership of them.

Taking ownership of our weaknesses and circumstances means, first of all, to acknowledge these very things.

It requires us to be honest with ourselves, with God, and even with others.

It means acknowledging that we don't like certain aspect(s) of ourselves or the circumstances that we're in, but that we accept the responsibility that we now have to get the help that we need in order to get to a better place.

It means to stop blaming others and to forgive them for modelling the wrong thing to us. It may also mean that we need God's help to reach that place of forgiveness in letting go of the hurts of the past.

Taking ownership may not seem fair, as it means relinquishing the wrong-doings of the people who have wounded us.

However, taking ownership stops us from hurting ourselves and our own families as we take the step to cut ourselves and our descendants off from the weaknesses and struggles of our forefathers which have been passed down from generation to generation.

It is a vital step towards experiencing the joy and freedom that God has intended for us and our loved ones.

The recovery process that begins with taking ownership may not happen overnight, but it is well worth every effort that is made.

You and I deserve the gift of taking ownership.

This is the gift that God is offering us today!

"For He says, 'In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.' Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." ~ 2 Corinthians 6:2 ~

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Loving Ourselves

Have you ever noticed how praise and encouragement can change a person's behaviour more effectively than criticism?

How a child's face lights up when praise is given while she unfolds and blooms like a flower?

As opposed to criticisms which cause the child's countenance and demeanour to wilt like a flower in dire need of water?

Yet some of us struggle to apply this same principle to ourselves.

Instead of giving ourselves a pat on the shoulder for the things we do right, we beat ourselves up for the things we do wrong or which we fail to do perfectly.

I've discovered that there is a huge difference between humility and self-deprecation.

Humility is a virtue which adopts an attitude of lowliness; of meekness and submission in preference of someone's opinion or authority over our own.

Self-deprecation takes that attitude to a lower level and turns it derogatorily to the undervaluing and belittling of oneself. Problems arise when self-criticism leads to self-rejection and self-hatred.

Running ourselves down gives no glory to the One who created us with such intricate love, pride and joy.

When we think negatively of ourselves or treat ourselves unkindly, we dishonour God who has made us in His image.

We are saying to Him that He has made a mistake in creating us the way we are (with our different personalities and characters), or the way we look (our appearances).

It is God's intention that we 'nourish' and 'cherish' ourselves in the same manner that He nourishes and cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:29).

His second commandment says that we are to love our neighbours as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

It is only when we are able to love ourselves in a healthy way (not the self-centred, arrogant kind of way) that we are able to love others in the way that Jesus asks us to.

We can only give out of what we have.

When I am critical of myself, I will also tend to be critical of others.

When I show grace to myself, I will also be more gracious towards others.

When I am able to love myself, I will have more love for other people.

It is time to stop beating up God's child.

And time to receive the healing love of our Heavenly Father.

To allow our head knowledge of His love for mankind to become a heart experience of His love for us individually and personally.

To let Him remove the sting from the negative experiences of the past, bind up our wounds, heal our broken hearts, and mend our broken dreams.

He really does love very, very much.....

He has a wonderful future all planned out for us; a purpose for us to fulfil that is beyond our imagination.

And because He loves us so much, we can love ourselves, too!

"For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." ~ Romans 8:38 ~

"... Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you." ~ Jeremiah 31:3 ~

"For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church." ~ Ephesians 5:29 ~

Thursday, 11 July 2013

It's A New Day!

Our past can be filled with so many disappointments, hurts, and regrets that each time we go down memory lane, we come out more miserable than happy; more downcast than encouraged.

And we can be so stuck in those memories of pain that we find it difficult to move forward.

On my journey to wholeness, I have found it essential to be honest with myself and with God, to grieve my losses, to make peace with my past, and to let go.

To forgive and to be forgiven. And to make reconciliations where reconciliations are possible.

To declare that each day is a new day to begin afresh in God.

A clean slate to write on where yesterday's mistakes don't count.

A brand new day to cut off the old and embrace the new.

To identify the lies that have kept me in bondage and held me captive.

To stop thinking and behaving in the old ways that have gotten me stuck in the wilderness for far too long.

To learn new ways of thinking and behaving that will enable me to step out of that self-prolonged wilderness and into a new peace; a new joy; a new ability to love myself and others.

To stop beating up this beautiful creation whom God loves without reserve  - sometimes the hardest thing to do is to forgive ourselves.

To refuse to live with regrets and to let go of things that threaten to take away this new peace and joy that I've found in Him.

To remember the happy memories and purposefully push aside the sad ones.

To receive God's love and grace for today and to depend on His strength when mine is not enough.

To trust Him for a better tomorrow if today doesn't go as planned.

To live in the moment and cherish the blessings of each day.

Trusting that God will restore all that we had lost and bless our latter days more than our beginning.

So let's take courage and arise, for today is a new day!

"So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten...."
~ Joel 2:25 ~

"Instead of your shame you shall have double honour. And instead of confusion they shall rejoice in their portion. Therefore in their land they shall possess double; Everlasting joy shall be theirs."
~ Isaiah 61:7 ~

"Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning...."
~ Job 42:12 ~

"The end of a thing is better than its beginning...."
~ Ecclesiastes 7:8 ~

Monday, 1 July 2013

When You Are Ready

I used to be able to speak in front of a group of people.

In fact, I've shared in a couple of small churches before as well as in front of the students in the university campus in my hometown where I used to teach.

But after the burnout/breakdown which the mental health professionals simply refer to as anxiety and/or depression, I discovered that even the simplest task could pose to be a challenge, let alone speaking in front of people. I remember writing about my frustrations and disappointment with myself for not being able to do what I used to be capable of.

While looking through my journal the other day, I found this entry dated a year ago. It was written in the form of a blog but I didn't have a blog site then to publish it:

[Life in the 21st century has become like a frantic rat race. I wonder if God is ever in a hurry. Somehow, I can't picture Him rushing from one thing to another, getting all frazzled and flustered in the process like some of us do.

I read somewhere once that God lives in eternity; a place which is not bound by time.

We are the impatient ones; not God.

In life, we make mistakes and we take a fall from time to time. Sometimes, the fall is a particularly bad one and we need to take time to recover. Time to heal on the inside. Time to recover from exhaustion. Time to take baby steps before learning to run again.

Trying to rush the healing process can be counter-productive. It's like slitting a cocoon to help the butterfly emerge faster. Sadly, the butterfly is not ready and will die before its time.

I used to be able to speak in front of a group of people. When will I be able to do that again? I wonder.

When you are ready...... comes a whisper.

But what if I can never find the boldness to do that again? Because right now, I don't think that's ever going to happen.

You will.......

Immediately, Phil 4:13 comes to mind: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

But I don't feel strong at all. I feel the complete opposite. So very weak in every aspect.....

That's the best place to be..... for my power will be made manifest in your weakness.....

It is not by my own effort. Nor by my own strength. But by His Spirit to bring forth the breakthrough. “... Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)

It is not my ability, but rather my availability. I only need to take the step that I am confident enough to take. God will supply the strength and courage that I need to take the next step.

One step at a day at a time.

When you are ready......

Eventually, I'll get there.]

And guess what?? 

Last week, I did get there! I actually shared in front of a group of people! It was the first time in years! Okay, so there were only ten of us present that night which wasn't exactly a a sizeable number. Nevertheless, it was still a breakthrough for me!

The best thing was that I wasn't stressing about it. Mainly because my husband was scheduled to share and I thought this was as good a time as any to see if I could do it; he was prepared to take over if my nerves failed me. It felt so good to be able to do it and I was stoked!

Also, my conviction that God is good and that He's not responsible for everything that happens to us had given me the courage to share this very topic.

The coolest thing that I've discovered about God is that He is never in a hurry. He has never rushed me into doing what I don't feel capable of. I've experienced such graciousness and gentleness from God that I've never known before.

What seems like a waste of time is time necessary for Him to do a deeper work of healing in me before the release of grace and boldness comes to take the next step.

Through it all, He faithfully showers me with His love and acceptance while affirming and encouraging me with loving reminders of His faith in me.

When I think I am ready, He helps me take the next step.

And if I fall flat on my face, He helps me get up and gently reminds me this:

Success is not measured by how well you've done a job. When you have given something a go, that, too, is a measure of success.

Failure is not the opposite of success. You only fail when you refuse to try. 

So don't be afraid to try. I'm there to catch you if you fall.

Take my hand and take the next step. I will help you get to where you're supposed to be........

Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the Lord.” ~ Psalm 27:14