Sunday, 11 October 2015

The One Who Wants You Present

Have you ever wondered if anyone would notice if you fell off the grid? If your presence truly mattered? If your whole self -- your thoughts, your being -- was valued? Have you ever felt like a puff of smoke that people walked through rather than a human being standing in a room? Have you ever felt so easily forgettable, hardly memorable, barely detectable at all? Like a light brush of wind, never leaving your fingerprints on anything or anyone?

I'm not asking these questions for the sake of being dramatic. I'm asking them because, my suspicion is, many of us have felt this way. We react to it in different ways, sure -- we might throw on a mask, live a false life that runs contrary to who we truly are, or withdraw completely -- but at the root of it all lies the same struggle: we grapple with believing that we matter.

It hurts to offer ourselves to others, only to be rejected or to go unnoticed. It's tempting to lock ourselves up from within, vowing to no longer venture out because we're convinced that our presence doesn't matter. It hurts and there's really no way to soften it ... But have you ever considered, even for a second, that it might hurt God even more?

My friend... His heart aches for you. Your presence means a heck of a lot to him. And that is why it hurts him so badly when you're missing, when you're gone, when you disappear, when you don't show up -- literally, figuratively, or whatever. Your absence may or may not go unnoticed by others, but that's beside the point. The point is that you matter to God, if to no one else. Your presence -- and your absence -- he notices it. So don't be fooled.

He remembers. He searches. He counts his sheep and goes after the lost one. What kind of reckless person does that? Only the person that is Jesus, who is madly, deeply in love with... you.

Everything that Mother Teresa did was propelled by the desire to quench Jesus' thirst. And she said, time and time again, that he thirsts for you. Honestly, with everything else thrown aside, all he really asks for is that: your presence.

The whole world might calculate your worth based on your utility -- how useful you are, what you've produced, how you "add value" -- but to God, what you do or don't do is nothing compared to your presence. Your presence, in and of itself -- even if you did absolutely nothing but sit at his feet -- is "added value" to him. You never have to worry about proving your value, because he gave it to you.

I hope this gives you enough courage to share your presence. To inch out of hiding, even if slowly, to unite your heart with God's, and later, with those around you who greatly need your presence too, but may or may not realize it yet. Don't wait for permission from others; just answer God's invitation.

Luke 10:38-42

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Sunday, 13 September 2015

Hope: The Underrated but Necessary Virtue

"And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love." - 1 Corinthians 13:13

I've heard this verse many times before and thought I understood it. But I didn't - not fully, at least. Because out of these three virtues, the one I took less seriously was hope. 

Let me explain:

I always viewed hope as a type of naive optimism or wishful thinking that was hardly grounded in reality. I viewed it as a passing, unreliable, 'feel-good' emotion that one could live without. And most of all, I was afraid of being hopeful because I was afraid of disappointment. But my thinking was so flawed. While hope can have emotional benefits, that is not its sole purpose. Its purpose is much greater: to point our eyes to God rather than to our present circumstances. Hope means believing that God will provide, that He will keep His promises, that He is enough.


We often put our hope in other things - in other people, in our careers, in our possessions, in our talents, etc. We do this because somewhere in the back of our minds we fear that we can't actually find fulfillment in God. We say we do, but do we really? 

A life of resignation comes in different forms. The most obvious is what some would call the 'hopeless/pessimistic' disposition - those who are cynical or depressed (I've experienced mental health issues myself so I know that no one is born wanting to feel this way). 

But it comes in less obvious forms too. How about the girl or guy who settles for a relationship that doesn't really make them happy, that isn't really fruitful, that's even toxic at times - just because it's convenient, or it's easily available, or it quenches their loneliness for the time being and makes a dull life more entertaining? They yearn for something far more real, fruitful, and intimate, yet they've given up hope that God could grant them anything close to that. So they take matters into their own hands in order to speed up the process, winding up unhappy. 

Or what about the reverse of that? Those who remain closed, who never risk opening themselves up to deeper friendships/relationships because they've stopped hoping that they could ever love or be loved? 

The same could be said about the person who looks to their career, their talents, or their achievements for a sense of worth, even though they know that if they lost their jobs, their skills, and their titles, they'd lose all sense of themselves, because their hope is not grounded in something more permanent. Or what about the reverse: those who settle for mediocrity because they've lost hope in much more? 

We live a life of resignation when we refuse to return to God, to ask for forgiveness, or to seek His mercy, because we've given up hope in His grace. The false belief that we are 'damaged goods' is living in resignation. When we fall down and choose not to get up with the grace of God, that is living in resignation. 

Fr. Jacques Philippe would even go as far as to say that sin is the direct cause of living without hope: "At the root of sin lies doubt, suspicion of God ... Doubt gives rise to distrust: we don't believe God can fulfill us and make us happy. Then we try to manage on our own, in disobedience." If Adam and Eve had placed their hope in God for fulfillment, they wouldn't have bitten that apple. 


Hope is the virtue that keeps us pushing when we've practically lost our fight. Hope is what empowers us to live the life we were called to live, despite being countercultural. Hope is what gives meaning to our suffering. In fact, the difference between suffering that leads to despair and the suffering that leads to sainthood is hope. 


Hope means banking on God completely, and that takes a lot of guts. Hope is not for the fainthearted; it's for the courageous. Hope is not for the naive or for those who are ignorant of reality; it's for those who are convinced of the Truth, of a reality beyond this reality. Hope isn't simply for the weak; it's for those who aren't afraid to acknowledge their weaknesses because they are sustained by God. 

I'll leave you with a few statements from Fr. Jacques Philippe in his book called Interior Freedom
  • "Hope can only be born in poverty. That is why poverty of spirit is the key to all real growth in love." 
  • "Faith, then, produces hope, and hope makes love possible and helps it grow."
  • "As long as hope remains, love develops. If hope is extinguished, love grows cold." 

As long as you hope in God, there will always be hope for you. Always

Friday, 31 July 2015

Lessons from Europe: Top 6 Moments

About a month ago I went on a trip to Spain and Italy with some of my best friends. I wanted to share with you 6 of the most meaningful moments and lessons I learned from my travels.

1. As a good friend of mine put it: "When the bass drops, thou must drop with it." 
Night out in Barcelona
Honestly, there are few things more therapeutic than going out dancing. And I mean actually dancing. As in pulling out all your best moves and going HAM on the dance floor (none of that shady stuff though). It's freeing to lose your inhibitions (within reason) and to stop caring about who you scare off with your awesome moves. When you find a group of friends who are willing to make fools out of themselves WITH you, all the better. 

2. Learn to enjoy a good cup of coffee, European style. 
Morning cappuccino in Venice
By "European style", I don't just mean the
quality/contents of your coffee. I mean the way in which coffee is enjoyed. In Europe, or at least in the places we visited in Italy and Spain (not trying to overgeneralize here), finding a to-go cup is actually quite challenging! That's because coffee is typically enjoyed while sitting down at an outdoor patio, not while on the move. It's enjoyed with your full presence and undivided attention. So once in a while, try taking a break from sipping coffee on-the-go and fully enjoy the moment.

3. Learn something new (it's never too late).
(Me) biking by the Tiber River
This might sound kind of sad to some people, but I finally learned how to bike for the first time in Trastevere, Rome ... at the age of 22. But hey, new surroundings means new experiences, right? Needless to say, it was AWESOME. My point: don't be afraid try new things. Traveling tends to bring out your adventurous side, but remember: you don't have to be in an entirely new place to try new things. It's never too late. 

4. Appreciate your feet (sounds weird, I know).
Spa treatment in Toronto Pearson airport
By the end of our trip, our feet were calloused, peeling, and just.. not pretty. But strangely, I loved it. I loved it because it was evidence that my feet had done lots of walking. They were feet that actually went places. They weren't stationary, afraid to see the world. No. They were feet that had gone on many adventures, gotten lost too many times to count, danced on Venetian bridges, and stepped foot on new land. So once in a while, appreciate your feet. They take you places. :)
5. Realize that life is about the in-between moments just as it is about the epic ones.
Unintentionally matching outfits
Surprisingly, one of the highlights of my trip were the unplanned, seemingly monotonous moments that were wedged in between all the fancy sightseeing. Like having the toilet leak and the lights go out in our apartment, giving us something to laugh hard about. Or getting caught dancing in an empty restaurant basement by the chef. Or climbing over a fence just to find out it was already unlocked. Or doing the laundry and almost shrinking our clothes because we got 'temperature' and 'length of time' mixed up. 
No one could have plotted these events in the itinerary. But they were meaningful because they were organic. They're the ones we'll laugh about years from now. 
6. Cherish the present moment and the ones you're with.
Lying on a dock by the Grand Canal
"Our lives may not be perfect, but they are filled with perfect moments." Our last night in
Europe was magical (and I hardly ever use that word to describe things). It was literally one of those perfect moments where I wouldn't change a single thing. 
After having an awesome dinner, freestyle dancing on a bridge over the Grand Canal, impersonating Smeagol from Lord of the Rings (in public) -- plus a whole lot of other crazy things -- we ended the night by lying on a gondola dock, faces towards the sky, wishing on shooting stars (and also looking out for bats. LOL). 
At that moment, I remember thinking how grateful I was that despite all the disappointments I've faced and all the people who've walked in and out of my life, I was on the other side of the world experiencing this perfect moment with friends who have stuck around for so many years. They weren't just 'friends' to me anymore, but 'sisters'. Sisters in every definition of the word (minus the part about sharing the same parents). 
Moments like these leave your heart full, making you soak in the present moment rather than lamenting the past or worrying about the future. Take advantage of these moments. They make life colourful. 
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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Lessons from Europe: A Culture of Encounter

There I was, sporting the signs of a typical North American: Coffee in a to-go cup. Laptop open. Headphones plugged in, tuning out the rest of the world so I could focus on meeting tight deadlines. Game face on, I was implicitly communicating to everyone around me: "This woman means business. Do. Not. Interrupt."

But someone interrupted me, and, in hindsight, I'm glad he did. He reminded me that there was another way to live other than this mechanized way of operating.

A photo I took while on vacation in Italy.
The sugar package is ON POINT. 


I was initially quite shocked when a young man, my age, pulled up a chair and sat with me (hardly giving me a chance to fully consent). After introducing himself, he blatantly said: "I am talking to you because I want to make friends."

He explained that he was originally from Italy, but he was here in Vancouver to study English for a semester. Turns out he'd picked the right person to converse with, because I had JUST recently returned from a vacation in Italy and Spain. Since I was experiencing massive Europe withdrawals, I gave him a shot, removed my headphones, and listened to his story.

As cliche as it sounds, he was the stereotypically boisterous, expressive, and energetic Italian with a zest for life. And sadly, I could tell that his experience in North America was squashing his spirit. He was restrained. He wanted to be free, but he felt like he couldn't be.

We launched into a really interesting conversation about cultural differences between Europe and North America. He expressed that life here was too structured compared to what he was used to -- here we all stuck to our schedules with so much rigidity, waking up, eating, studying, working, and sleeping, all at fixed, appointed times -- while he was accustomed to flexibility, to studying at 2 AM, and having unplanned fun once in a while.

He said it was so hard for him to make friends here, because everyone always kept to themselves (he once got kicked out of a section on campus for being too talkative, in which he humorously exclaimed, "I can't help it, I'm ITALIANO!"). He said there seemed to be a resounding fear in North America, a fear of strangers (to be honest, I was quite afraid when he first approached HAHA). It was as if everyone here just wanted their space, to draw boundaries. He said there was too much importance placed on first impressions and not enough room for real human interaction.

Sadly, I couldn't agree more.


Truth be told, he basically articulated exactly how I felt returning home from my vacation in Spain and Italy. I thought I was going crazy, that I was the only one who noticed these things, but his input brought me affirmation.

I love traveling because it gives you perspective. It makes you realize how great things are back home, how much you've taken for granted. And it also makes you question whether the "North American" way of doing things really is the "best way". It definitely isn't the "only" way. It can be scary yet exciting to acknowledge other ways of thinking beyond what you grew up with.

I'm not denigrating the quality of life here in North America, because it's great. I especially love living in Vancouver. There are certain things we enjoy here that can't be enjoyed in many other places on this planet. And it's also not to say that EVERYONE living in North America falls under the category of what I just described. However, the man I encountered today had a point.

Maybe the fast-paced, overly structured, individualistic society we live in isn't always the most conducive to fostering social, emotional, and mental wellness. Maybe there is something problematic about this mechanized way of living that prioritizes work/duties over people/relationships. Maybe we do need to take breaks from our rigid schedules once in a while to allow for spontaneous encounters. Maybe there really is another way to live, one that gives us more permission to be human and less machine-like.


I've come to realize that sometimes I can be the epitome of a North American-bred person. It scares me how rigid, mechanical, and task-oriented I can be. I cherish the encounters I have with others, but sometimes I can be so guarded, so afraid to let people into my private spaces -- and to step into theirs. Yet I know that all human souls long for connection, for genuine encounters. In fact, it's what we're called to do.

Pope Francis spent quite a bit of time calling forth a Culture of Encounter. Perhaps we'll come to find that genuine encounters with other people will be the soothing balm to our souls, the way that God wants to heal us -- and that he wants to do the same for others through us.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Fruits of Singlehood

There's a lot of emphasis on vocation as either 'married life' or 'religious/consecrated life', or an emphasis on vocation as being something off into the future -- which it is. But our vocation is also active here and now, and the one vocation that all people are required to go through first is singlehood. 

We tend to overlook this crucial period of our lives as the dreaded 'default setting' (which is true), but it's also a called a 'vocation' for a reason: it's a calling. We may not be called to singlehood for the rest of our lives, but we're undeniably called to it at one point of our lives. It serves a purpose that, to God, is so important that no one can skip it. 

And I'm beginning to realize the fruits of singlehood. 

Like many people, I, too, yearn for intimacy, love, and connection in the deepest way. And like many others, I, too, have come across opportunities in my life where I "almost" had that with another person. I say "almost" because it didn't quite get that far -- and for good reason, as I'm realizing in hindsight.

6 months have passed since our mutual decision to leave things as "almost". Yet to have my co-op advisor say I looked more confident than I did 6 months ago -- after 6 months of no longer having a security blanket over me, after 6 months of dealing with the natural sense of "loss" that came from letting go of someone I really care(d) about -- surprised the heck out of me. It made me reflect on life like hadn't in a long time. 

I can't deny that "loss" was an accurate description for how I felt, but it was not an accurate description for what was actually happening in my life. I'd been so focused on living, I forgot to take note of how much progress I've made in 6 months. And now I know:

If this was truly loss, why was I crossing major things off my Bucket List? If this was loss, why was I taking on positive opportunities that once scared the heck out of me? If this was loss, why was I re-connecting with important people in my life? If this was loss, why was I falling in love with certain activities I once lost passion for? If this was loss, why was I learning more about the movements in my heart with regards to a career? If this was loss, why did I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I had in a long time? If this was loss, why was I falling more in love with Love Himself? 

I am beyond grateful that in allowing myself to 'lose' such an important part of my life, God has opened the doors to so many others. 


What I'm trying to say is: singlehood is NOT a default setting that one remains in when all other doors are locked. It's a period of life that is flooded with opportunity. So treasure it. Make the most out of it. It's God's gift to you, and your gift to the world. 

I can confidently say that right now, I am exactly where I need to be. Right now, singlehood is my vocation. It may not be that way a year or so from now, but at present, it is. And, to my surprise, I am actually excited. 

Wherever you are in life, own it. 

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Monday, 4 May 2015

Do Your Challenges Propel You or Prevent You?

I wanted to share with you a letter written by Canadian national hero, Terry Fox, with the hopes of getting Adidas to sponsor his footwear for the Marathon of Hope. 
If you're not familiar with Terry Fox, he was a man who chose to raise funds for cancer research by running across the entire country of Canada, despite having an amputated leg as a result of his own cancer. This was called the Marathon of Hope. 
I found his letter to Adidas (below) particularly inspiring, as I'm sure you'll see for yourself. I won't write too much because I believe the letter speaks for itself as well. Here it is. 
November 3, 1979
Dear Sir/Madame: 
My name is Terry Fox, I am 21 years old, and I am an amputee. I lost my right leg above the knee two and a half years ago due to cancer. 
The night before my amputation, a former basketball coach brought me a magazine with an article on an amputee who ran in the New York Marathon in it. It was then when I decided to meet this new challenge head on and not only overcome my disability, but conquer it in such a way that I could never look back and say it disabled me. But I soon realized that that would only be half my quest, for as I went through the 16 months of the physically and emotionally draining ordeal of chemotherapy, I was rudely awakened by the feelings that surrounded and coursed throughout the cancer clinic. There were the faces with the brave smiles, and the ones who had given up smiling. There were the feelings of hopeful denial, and the feelings of despair. My quest would not be a selfish one. I could not leave knowing these faces and feelings would still exist, even though I would be set free from mine. Somewhere the hurting must stop… and I was determined to take myself to the limit for this cause. 
I feel now is the time to make good my promise. I have been training for over 8 months, running on an artificial leg. Starting with ½ mile, I have now worked up to 15 miles a day, adding a half mile weekly. 
At first the going was extremely difficult, as I was facing chronic ailments foreign to runners with two legs, in addition to the common physical strains felt by all dedicated athletes. But these problems are now behind me as I have either out-persisted or learned to deal with them. I feel strong not only physically, but more important, emotionally. Soon I will be adding one full mile each week, and coupled with the weight training I have been doing three times a week, by April next year I will be ready to achieve something that for me was only a distant dream reserved for the world of miracles; to run across Canada to raise money for the fight against cancer. 
The running I can do, even if I have to crawl every last mile. But there are some barriers I cannot overcome alone. I need your help, your sponsorship, to help provide the means to sustain myself and two others that have consented to put aside those 5 months to be my companions and aides. We will be needing transportation to Newfoundland, a camper-type vehicle to meet us there ... 
If you could just sponsor us for the footwear, it would be more than appreciated and would take a great financial burden off our backs. If you would also like to provide your sponsorship for any other expenditures for the trip, you are most welcome to, as we need as much help as we can get. 
Please, consider my plea carefully and notify me if you come to any decisions, good or bad. My number is listed below and I can be reached or a message can be left any time during the day.
We need your help. The people in caner clinics all over the world need people who believe in miracles. I’m not a dreamer, and I’m not saying that this will initiate the definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.
Yours Sincerely,
Terry Fox
Terry Fox exemplifies someone who chose to find meaning in his suffering. 
He took a circumstance that would prevent him from living an ordinary life and used it to live an extraordinary one. In the face of suffering, he didn't throw up his hands in defeat and say, "What's the point?" Instead, he found his point, right there, on his sickbed -- the direction for which to propel himself, his newfound purpose. 
As a result, he went from being a 'victim' to a 'hero'. Today, the Terry Fox Run, which originated from the Marathon of Hope, is the largest one-day fundraiser for cancer research in the world and is celebrated in over 60 countries. Not bad eh? 
Now it comes down to you. How will YOU find meaning in your suffering? Will you choose to let it propel you or prevent you? 

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Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Kintsugi Heart

Kintsugi (金継ぎ) is the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery. Rather than gluing the pieces back together in a way that conceals the cracks, Kintsugi makes the cracks even more visible by filling them with lacquer resin mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. This results in a metallic design that runs across the surface of the pottery, making it look even more beautiful than before it was broken.

The philosophy behind Kintsugi is that objects don't need to be thrown away because they are broken; nor must their brokenness be hidden. Rather, brokenness is embraced as simply part of an object's life. The significance of an object does not fade just because it's been broken.

The same philosophy applies to us. Our value does not decrease because we are broken. In fact, sometimes brokenness is required to live lives that are fully surrendered to God. Sometimes the road to falling more in love with God means letting our hearts be broken first.

God never said it would be easy. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23). | "... Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." (John 12:24) | "Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it." (Mark 8:35)

See... We can't fall more in love with God until we fall out of love with whatever isn't, first and foremost, Him.

Everything we've built our lives upon, everything we've sought false security in, everything we've gotten far too attached to -- our jobs, our hobbies, our relationships, our plans -- sometimes God will ask us to let go these things. And even if we know it's all for the better, it certainly won't feel that way for the time being. It's going to hurt. It's going to feel like the definition of having a broken heart.

But all that's left is to surrender to this brokenness.

We commonly look at Mary as the model of obedience. But let us not forget that she, too, harboured a broken heart. By witnessing her Son break from the sins of the world, she, too, broke. She allowed herself to. She let it be. She surrendered to the pain and united it with the Lord's because she had knew God's love would triumph. She allowed herself to become so empty so that God, alone, could fill her. And He did.

As part of Mother Teresa's consecration to Mary, she prayed something like this: "Mary, keep me in your most pure heart" and "Mary, lend me your heart." If we, too, want to draw closer to Jesus through Mary by asking her to lend us her heart, then expect to be broken hearted -- because her heart was one that was broken.

Yet, broken as it was, no other heart in this world was able to love Jesus more than hers. No other heart was more united with His than hers. No other heart became as swollen with the Holy Spirit as hers. We have nothing to fear in this brokenness. We have only to hope.

So give God your heart, even if it's in pieces - no, especially if it's in pieces. Give Him the broken shards and He will return it, gluing the pieces back together, not bothering to conceal the cracks but celebrating them, painting them gold -- so that, like Kintsugi, our hearts will be returned to us, even more beautiful than before they were broken.

Beautiful because they were broken.

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