Monday, 29 February 2016

The Royal Road of the Cross

As we venture deeper into Lent, I wanted to share with you a piece that was written, not by me, but by Thomas à Kempis. I hope that his words can supplement your Lenten reflections.

THE ROYAL ROAD OF THE CROSS

There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom, but few who will bear his cross. Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him.

Many love Christ as long as they encounter no hardship; many praise and bless him as long as they receive some comfort from him. But if Jesus hides himself and leaves them for a while, they either start complaining or become dejected. Those, on the contrary, who love him for his own sake and not for any comfort of their own, praise him both in trial and anguish of heart as well as in the bliss of consolation. Even if Jesus should never comfort them, they would continue to praise and thank him. What power there is in a pure love for Jesus – love that is free from all self-interest and self-love!

Do not those who always seek consolation prove that they love themselves rather than Christ? Where can we find anyone who is willing to serve God for nothing? Such a person is worth far more than the jewels brought from the most distant lands.

Take up your cross and follow Jesus, and you will inherit everlasting life. There is no other way to life and to true inward peace than the way and discipline of the cross. Go where you will, seek what you want, you will not find a higher way, nor a less exalted but safer way, than the way of the cross. Arrange and order everything to suit your desires and you will still have to bear some kind of suffering, willingly or unwillingly.

The cross, therefore, is unavoidable. It waits for you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself along. Turn where you will – above, below, without, or with­in – you will find the cross.

If you willingly carry the cross, it will carry you. It will take you to where suffering comes to an end, a place other than here. If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load, though still you have to bear it. If you try to do away with one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one. How do you expect to escape what no one else can avoid? Which saint was exempt? Not even Jesus Christ was spared. Why is it that you look for another way other than the royal way of the holy cross?

The whole life of Christ was a cross. And the more spiritual progress you strive for, the heavier will your crosses become, for as your love for God increases so will the pain of your exile.

When you willingly carry your cross, every pang of tribulation is changed into hope of solace from God. Besides, with every affliction the spirit is strengthened by grace. For it is the grace of Christ, and not our own virtue, that gives us the power to overcome the flesh and the world. You will not even fear your enemy, the devil, if you arm yourself with faith and are signed with the cross of Christ.

Decide then, like a good and faithful servant of Christ, to bear bravely the cross of your Lord. It was out of love that he was crucified for you. Drink freely from the Lord’s cup if you wish to be his friend. Leave your need for consolation to God. Let him do as he wills. On your part, be ready to bear sufferings and consider how in these sufferings lies your greatest consolation. The sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come.

When you get to the point where for Christ’s sake suffering becomes sweet, consider yourself fortunate, for you have found paradise on earth.

Monday, 8 February 2016

The Truth About Healing

Well, I suppose it's safe to say that I've done what most people can't do. I let go, when most people would latch on. I leaped and I did, in fact, fall. I let go and I did, in fact, lose. I consented to having my heart broken, knowing full well what I was getting myself into. And reality did not disappoint; it was everything I expected it to be and more. Am I stronger now? I don't know. I can't say conclusively, but that's just what it's like to heal.

Healing is nothing like it is in the movies. Or maybe it is, except the concept of 'time' is vastly warped. You don't 'break' and then come out totally confident a few weeks later. The reality is that the healing process is NOT linear; it's a freaking roller-coaster. You have good days and bad days, and the cycle repeats itself. You take one step forward and then two steps back. You think you're getting up, but then you fall back down again.

Forgiveness, I realized, is also not linear. First of all, it's not an emotion, but a choice. Second of all, if you think you can do it without God's grace, you are kidding yourself; forgiveness is essentially countering everything your natural human tendency is telling you to do. Thirdly, forgiveness is a decision you constantly have to make and then re-make—for as long as it takes. Even if that means multiple times a month, a week, a day.

You also have to come to terms with the fact that life can be downright perplexing at times. While asking "Why?" ("Why did this happen? Why me?") can be helpful, sometimes it is unproductive—especially when not a single person you ask has a clue how to answer it. Some things aren't meant to be made sense of. These are the moments when only the grace of God can help you trust Him.

Finally, when it comes to healing, be patient with yourself. If you're anything like me, you'd want nothing more than to be free of the things that hold you down, to shake all the unnecessary weight off your shoulders so you can finally use your energy on something more productive. But, for the time-being, you still find yourself tangled in a strange mess you never wanted to be in. Personally, I would cut the cord and untangle myself immediately if I could. But it doesn't work like that. Detangling takes time, and for now I am still indirectly weaved into a story that I will soon not be a part of.

Until then, here's to the journey towards healing. If you're on a similar road, join me. If there's any good that can come out of this, it's growth in virtues, I suppose. Total reliance on God; blind trust in His will despite having no clue how the hurt can be transformed into something meaningful; forgiving when it's the last thing you feel like doing; and having enough patience to allow His promises to come through.

Keep your chin up. :)

John 14:1 | 2 Corinthians 12:9 | Jeremiah 29:11

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Sunday, 17 January 2016

Winter Solstice: Lessons on Healing and Recovery


I live in one of the darkest places in the world. Vancouver gets less sunlight per year than many places on this planet (that is, according to Google). As I was observing how late the sun rises and how early it sets these days, I was relieved to find that the Winter Solstice (the shortest day and the longest night of the year due to less sunlight) has already passed—which means that every dreary winter day that passes from now until Summer Solstice will only bring us more sunlight. (If you live in a perpetually sunny place, you might not understand why sunshine is such a big deal to those of us living in the Pacific Northwest. Haha.) 

This means that the darker days are (literally) behind us and the brighter days are ahead.

Yet it might not immediately seem like this. Many of us forget that Winter Solstice marks the first day of winter, not the middle of it. As we trudge on through cold winter days, it might seem like gloom is all there is. It's hard to imagine that we're actually getting more hours of sunlight as winter progresses. In fact, it takes a quarter of a year before we start seeing noticeable differences in the amount of sunshine we get. 

And—surprise, surprise—this is just like LIFE. 

Whether it's getting laid off from your job, having your heart broken, or losing a loved one, the 'initial blow' is always the hardest part of anything in life. It's our own human version of the 'Winter Solstice': the darkest day of the year (the day with the least sunlight). When these things happen, it feels like it's only uphill from here—like the darker days have just begun.

But remember:

Your metaphorical 'Winter Solstice' is the darkest day—which means brighter days are ahead of you. The days that follow might still appear to be gloomy, but don't let appearances deceive you; each one gradually brings more sunlight ... even if you can hardly detect it. Every tear-filled night that happens afterwards functions like raindrops, making your soil fruitful in due time. 

When you are physically wounded, your body will immediately begin to repair itself. The same goes for emotional and spiritual wounds. After the 'initial blow', your spirit will begin to heal itself too. And so will God. So rest in Him. Don't leave Him out of the healing process; He is the process. 


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Thursday, 31 December 2015

6 Quotes to usher in the New Year

It's New Year's Eve! For some people, reflecting on the past year gives them a feeling of triumphthey've made great strides, accomplished important goals, and overcome many challenges. But for others, reflecting on the past year can feel wearisome, filled with regret and disappointment. Here are some quotes to help you look up instead of down and give you a glimmer of hope for the New Year to come.

1. "All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us." Gandalf 
It's easy to look back at the past year with a tinge of regret. We notice the blessings, but also the holesthe baggage we still carry, the things that still need repair, the areas of our lives that still need refining and watering. It's tempting to think: "If only I had realized this earlier..." or "I thought I'd be in a different place by now..." But we all know that none of us can turn back time or speed it up. We can't erase our mistakes or skip the growing pains that come with learning. So do what you can with the time you have now.

2.  "Sometimes it feels like you've been buried, but actually you've been planted." Anonymous
You might look back at the past year and realize you've hit your lowest point. But these experiences which made you feel 'down in the dirt' could be the very same soil that enables you to grow.

3. "Your speed doesn't matter. Forward is forward." Anonymous
Sometimes it feels like others are progressing, but you're still stuck in the same rut or moving in an excruciatingly slower pace. Do yourself a favour and stop being hard on yourself. Forward is still forward. You're not moving backwards. Slow motion is better than no motion.

4. "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant." Robert Louis Stevenson
Sometimes it feels like all your effort has amounted to nothing. But don't be fooled. Effort matters, even in the absence of immediate visible results. Be patient, celebrate your efforts, and trust that they will eventually become fruitful in God's time. Don't let anything discourage you from 'planting seeds'. You might be surprised which circumstances they sprout up!

5. "Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge." Kahlil Gibran
Maybe you're ending the year off with unanswered questions. Perhaps you thought you were heading in the right direction, only to realize you were totally wrong and are struggling to redirect. Maybe you face tremendous uncertainty for what the future holds. Maybe you don't even fully understand yourselfyour wants and desires, your calling and vocation. Take heart: perplexity is the beginning of knowledge. Don't be afraid of your questions.

6. "Rock bottom was the foundation on which I rebuilt my life." J.K. Rowling
Finally, if you feel like you've hit rock bottom—sometimes that’s exactly the inciting incident you need to rebuild, reform, and recreate your life with completely new material. God allows you to hit rock bottom so that He can be the one to save you when you have nothing left, to transform your life into something greater than you imagined. So usher in the New Year with hope in Him.  

WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR! :) 

"For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." - Jeremiah 29:11 

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Sunday, 6 December 2015

10 Lessons I've Learned from 2015

December is usually the time of year when people get a little more introspective, reflecting on the past year and all the lessons that came with it, in preparation for the New Year. So here are 10 lessons that 2015 has taught me. Hopefully they resonate with you.

1. Be solution-focused. 
Some people are naturally action-oriented. They notice a problem and immediately jump into action to 'mitigate the disaster'. But others (like me) are way more reflectiveand that means we're more prone to dwelling. Now dwelling serves a good purpose: it gets you out of denial and helps you face the reality or a problem (which is better than ignorance). However, it's important to put a cap on it. Too much dwelling is not helpful. There comes a time when you've got to throw on your Big Girl pants, roll up your sleeves, and plot out how you're going to move forward from here (aka develop solutions). This has made a tremendous difference in my life.

2. Don't take life too seriously. 
Whoever said "laughter is the best medicine" is a genius. Sometimes it really is. My friend and I recently had a conversation about how we thought we'd have everything together by now, that things would be perfectly aligned, but it seems like the exact opposite has happened: everything we planned for has basically gone down the drain (don't you just love life's plot twists?!). Yet somehow we ended up finding this whole situation hilarious. Sometimes in life you'll be half-crying, half-laughingbut that touch of laughter makes all the difference.

3. Realize that different friends serve different purposes in your life.
It's way too demanding to expect one person to play all the roles that you need in your life. So cherish each individual friendship for what they arealmost like enjoying a bag of Skittles with different flavours. Not everyone can be that friend you can have deep, intense talks with. Not every friend can understand you at your most vulnerable. But others can definitely bring you joy, laughter, and good times. Some friends are there to slap sense into you, others are there to give you warm hugs. Some friendships will be more surface-level, but that doesn't mean they're less significant. 

4. Be okay with uncertainty and ambiguity.
Hollywood movies spoil us with resolved, happy endings. They tie up loose ends neatly. Everything's explained. The audience has an "aha!" moment of revelation. However, life is often more like an annoying indie film which has an open-ended, unresolved (or semi-resolved) ending that leaves you scratching your head. You want closure? You often won't get it. You want an explanation for why certain things panned out the way they did? You often won't get it. You want to know what the future holds? Good luck. In other words, accept that life's ambiguous and is filled with uncertainty. And then move on. 

5. Don't overcomplicate things.
You want to know if something is meant for you? Try it out. A friend of mine recently said, "Praying for your vocation begins I think, simply by ... praying for your vocation." The simplicity of his response was so awesome (and frankly relieving). You want to know if you're called to religious life? Spend time with Jesus then (your would-be spouse). You want to know if you're called to marry a particular person? Spend time with that person (and Jesus). You want to know if a career path is for you? Do some volunteer work, do an internship, or do some job-shadowing so you'd know. Life is simpler than it seems. 

6. Focus on what you can control, not on what you can't. 
This is one of the most liberating lessons I've learned. The recipe to hopelessness, frustration, and prolonged sadness is to keep focusing on things you have no control over. For instance, can only influence a person's perception of you to a certain degree. After that, it's totally in their hands. Misunderstanding happens. You could have the best intentions in the world, but someone could still take it the wrong way. Don't lose hair over that. Don't chase approval. Heck, Jesus was totally misunderstood by others. But he said his piece, presented the truth, 'shook the dust off his feet', and moved on. Clearly it wasn't his top priority to please everyone. So instead, focus on what is within your control and let go of what isn't.

7. Work with what you've got.
It's an utter waste of time to wish you were 'different'if that 'different' is something you have no control over. Wishing you had a better metabolism will literally do nothing to help you get to a healthier body weight. Yes, it's true that some people are born with better metabolism than others. But is that going to help your particular situation? No. So just hit the gym and eat healthier. If you aren't naturally thin like other girls, then celebrate your curves (or the reverse if that's your case). If you aren't an extrovert, maximize your strengths as an introvert. My point is: work with what you've got.

8. Stop telling yourself you wasted your time, because you haven’t.
Did you major in the wrong subject in college and are now blaming yourself for switching gears? Well, don't. As tempting as it is to tell yourself it was a complete waste of time, meandering in the 'wrong road' will probably be very useful to you in unexpected ways (how about a unique skill set?). Did you just get out of a long-term relationship with someone you were convinced would be your spouse? As good as it feels to be dramatic and say it was all a waste of time, it probably wasn't. That person was "put in your life to teach you a lesson" (I actually hate that phrase for being so damn true). See the value in everything. It'll save you the heartache.

9. Do something meaningful. 
Whatever 'meaningful' means to you is up for you to decide. It's a little different for everybody. For me, it means doing something that builds you up and/or builds others up. Beware of the trap of empty pleasures! We all need to unwind with things like Netflix, TV shows, or going out dancing once in a while. But do so in moderation. Too many nights repeating the same shallow things can add up to months of lacking meaning or purpose in your life.

10. Do whatever brings you joy.
Remember that 'meaningful things' don't always have to be ground-breaking or epic. Even seemingly shallow things, like a simple hobby, are worth doing simply because they bring you joy. For instance, I mentioned briefly in a previous blog post that dancing used to be a HUGE part of my life. I'd go summers practicing for competitions every single day, I kid you not. And then I stopped dancing when I went through depression. But lately I've been dancing again on a weekly basis, leisurely rather than competitively, and it has been surprisingly transformative. I feel like I'm thawing again after being frozen for so long. I feel like the colour is coming back to me, like I'm recovering a part of myself that I lost. Am I going to make a career out of dance? Probably not. But does that mean it isn't worth doing? Heck no. Sometimes God gives us these little talents and gifts because it brings joy to us, brings joy to him, and hopefully brings joy to others who witness it. If something brings you joy, keep doing ityou don't need another fancy reason.

SO THAT'S IT! :)

Feel free to share this blog post or leave a comment! I'd love to know what lessons you've learned over the past year.