Alone and not lonely

When I was young, I was a shy introvert. It was uncomfortable for me to be alone in a crowd whether at school or at church. I was safer and more at ease with a companion or friend by my side. It did not matter that I was the shadow or side-kick as long as I could tag along to where my friend would be. When visitors came to our home, I would hide inside our bedroom. My mom used to explain to people that I was shy. Adolescence was an awkward period in my life. I was known at school to be snobbish because I did not know how to greet people with a smile. It was awkward for me to smile at schoolmates who were less than acquaintances for me.

I was most at ease among my ‘barkada.’ (Tagalog term for gang – group of friends that hang out together regularly) Music and singing brought us close together. During the last year in high school, we had a concert. The time we spent at rehearsals brought us even closer to each other. After graduation, we each went our separate ways and one by one, my close high school friends went abroad. I was left with my older church friends. I found myself tagging along these friends – making them my barkada even though they were ‘barkada’ on their own.

Then I got married. My in-laws used to complain about my non-responsive ways. I was quiet when they asked me questions coz I did not know what to answer or how to answer them.

I guess my mom named me ‘静’ (quiet) 薇 (small) because of my introvert personality. Marriage made me grow up. I was forced to speak up even when I did not feel like it. My in-laws expected me to reply when I was asked a question or respond even when I was being criticised.

I learned to be independent and to be brave when I became a mother. In the Filipino-Chinese culture in Manila, it was usual for middle-class to upper-class couples to have ‘yaya’ (nanny) take care of their children. Hubby and I belonged to middle-class family. While many of my contemporaries had house help (maids) and yayas, when we first got married, we lived with my in-laws with no house help at all. It was something new for me because I grew up having maids at home to help my mom do housework. I remember bringing my first-born to see the paediatrician for her regular vaccination. I had to carry my child, along with her baby things in a bag, walked from our place to the hospital (it was very near) alone to have her check-up. While waiting at the clinic, I would enviously notice how other mothers had their yaya and hubby or even mother beside them. Looking back, it was ok. I did not really feel that bad. I had no choice. God put me where I was to make me grow – from a scared dependent child to a brave independent adult by His grace and mercy.

When I was young, I was most contented and secure to be the follower. My strongly dominant friends set the trend and I followed where they led. But these friends eventually moved away. Then I got married. I need to follow my husband. Being a wife and a mother made me grow up. I learned to make decisions and stand by them. God is gracious as he listened to my mom’s prayers for me everyday. By the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, I slowly took on roles to be a leader as I followed the examples of more mature Christian friends who went before me. I guess I became the reluctant leader – the transformed follower-leader.

Over the years I realised that I could be alone and not lonely. My self-confidence grew when I noticed friends following my lead. Perhaps I was unaware of my inherent gifts – God-given traits which God intended to be used for His purpose. And I am learning to tread carefully between the thin line of being alone and not lonely – to stand for what I believe is right even when the majority is not for it. And more importantly, I need to be careful and beware of pride – the state of being too comfortably alone and ending up lonely.

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This is a paradox – to be alone and not lonely. Solitude and loneliness – what are they? When I attended a ‘Soul Care’ class at the seminary, the professor asked us to explore our own shadows – the experiences in our life where we are most uncomfortable. She encouraged us to reflect on these dark places – to face them instead of turning away from them. So here are my thoughts on “The place of Loneliness and Solitude.”

To be lonely is to be isolated. To be in solitude is to be embraced.

The place of loneliness is a place of darkness. The place of solitude is a place of light.

To feel lonely is sad. There is joy in solitude.

To be alone is scary. To be in solitude is to be safe.

Paradox of Loneliness and Solitude

I can be lonely in a crowd. I can also be alone but not lonely.

While there is loneliness in a crowd, there is also solitude in a crowd.

Loneliness and Solitude are both places of the heart.

Jesus come into my heart.

 

 

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Traveling light

Do you know where you’re going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to, do you know?
Do you get what you’re hoping for?
When you look behind you there’s no open door.
What are you hoping for, do you know?

People rushing in all directions.. in suits, in jeans, with suitcases, with child, deep in thought, talking on the phone…

This is the scene at train stations, in airport terminals, bus terminals, shipping ports n docks.

Where are the people going? What are they thinking? Who are they meeting? How are they feeling? When will they arrive? Why there n not here? Why today n not tomorrow?
Heavy luggage or light? Big bag or small? What’s in the bag? Why bring them? Are they bringing it back or giving it away?

Travel light.. in life or on vacation, it is wise to travel light. Why?

The journey is faster if the burden is lighter. It is easier to go up or down the stairs when your luggage is smaller. Luggage with wheels better in plain smooth path than rough uneven roads.
In life, travel light. Bring the essentials only. I discover that sometimes many things I brought along are excess baggage. I discover that they take up space for what I need more or they just plainly add weight to what I carry.

Leave your cares behind, regrets, anger, bitterness, disappointments, frustration.. they are excess baggage that you have to pay heavily in your travel .. the more kilos, the more fees. People with heavy baggage are weighed down by the past. They missed the present n worry about the future.

Today is another new day. What heavy load am I dragging with me? Time to leave them behind. What is preventing me from travelling light? Bitterness? Unforgiving spirit? Regrets? Are these essentials for going forward? What good is it to bring along the what-could-have-beens or the if-onlys? Can this turn back the clock and make things better?

What to do instead? Unload… discard the non-essentials… throw away the negatives… pack only the essentials. Move forward in faith, hope and love. Only these 3 last. And the greatest of these is love.

Love covers a multitude of wrongs. Love bears all things. Love is patient n kind. Today let me bring along love in my journey… Love God n love my neighbour.IMG-b80366e3b33977c91b52a0cb71f20658-V.jpg

A Clamour to be heard…

The Shwedagon Pagoda is the biggest and most precious pagoda in Myanmar. It has 3.08 tons of gold with thousands of gemstones given by rich donors hoping to get a final good long long life when the 5th Buddha comes. The 5th Buddha should have 9 qualities to be considered the One. I wonder who decides these qualifications and who evaluate the person if he is the One.

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27540718_10156033982455797_7987522709109193725_n.jpgThis is the Victory square where people pray to Buddha facing the Pagoda for whatever they wish for to come true. Our guide told us that the Leiscester soccer team’s owner is a devout Thai buddhist. This millionaire prayed in the Victory Square facing the Shwedagon Pagoda before his team was set to play for the championship of the English Premier League. Our guide said: “Coincidentally” the team won the championship. This one word made me think: why coincidence? Is it just by chance?

At the end of the tour, I asked our guide: Did you ever pray at the Victory Square? He smiled sheepishly and shook his head. I said: How come? Do you believe in prayer? Again smiling, he said: I’m a buddhist but I’m not religious. I don’t pray.
More questions to ponder: Who is the object of prayer? Why pray? How to pray? Is prayer about religion?

As I observed these people praying so fervently with their eyes closed and their hands clasped, I can imagine the sincerity in their hearts and the desires for Buddha to answer their prayers. If they were to have their prayers answered, would they consider it a coincidence? Or perhaps charge it to their deep faith and sincere heart? Or their good works: a merit for Buddha to repay their good deeds? Or maybe they truly believe that Buddha hears and answers positively to all their prayers?

I ponder these questions with respect for their religion and their faith. It reminds me once more that prayer is a relationship of the pray- er with the Superior being that he prays to – for the desires of the heart and thoughts in the mind – a clamour to be heard.

Desolation and Consolation

Desolation is the state of complete emptiness or destruction; of anguished misery and loneliness. Consolation is comfort received after desolation. Desolation and consolation… life is full of them.

I have experienced in one moment the stress of listening to gripes of bitterness and anger… I became the object of wrath or subject of critical judgment. Then in another unexpected moment, there’s consolation in having a positive response to an intentional act of kindness – no matter how seemingly hopeless or useless this act might be. Consolation comes in the form of timely unexpected call of a friend; prayers for grace of angels God sent to me.

How to traverse between desolation and consolation?

Letting go of the desolation – put it behind me… not to repeat and rehearse the cursing I heard. Not to dwell on the hateful words or hold on to the moments of grief or anger. This is not easy. I want to defend myself – how I was wronged; how I was wrongly accused or judged. I need to make the other person see and hear how hurt I am. The people we love often have the power to hurt us the most.

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Looking towards consolation is putting one foot in front of the other – to step out in hope and faith that things will get better – to offer kindness even if I do not feel like it; even if I might be rejected; no matter how short or fleeting the consolation. To forgive again and again – to give water or food to the one that hurt me… this forgiveness that is more than just plain passive letting go. Jesus calls me to love – to actively do something in spite of the desolation. In doing so, I follow Jesus to the path of consolation – to the place of peace.

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Holding on to consolation moments – depositing them in the power bank from which to withdraw my strength – for me to use as an ammunition till the next desolation comes.

Lord, heal me in my desolation and let your healing presence be my consolation.

Growing in Patience

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Time is a valuable element in our lives. In our fast-paced world, we want everything instant and fast! Instant coffee, instant noodles, fast lane, express counter, express delivery. We also want efficiency. We want everything to work out smoothly, according to our plans. We plan based on what we know. Plans guide us so we know what’s next. We want assurance and security. We dislike uncertainty, because it makes us feel unstable.

So it is difficult to wait patiently in the midst of suffering. The Chinese character for patience (忍) is a compound word with knife (刀) on top of heart (心). When we are patient, we endure a painful stab in our hearts. Yet we bear up to the pain, and our heart keeps pumping in spite of the wound.

But waiting is easier if I know how long I will have to wait. I appreciate the digital displays on traffic lights that tell me how long I have to wait. I sometimes call my drivers: “San ka na?” (Where are you?) So often they answer, “Malapit na!” (Near already.) But malapit is relative—what’s “near” for my driver may not be “near” for me. And when time is of the essence, a ten-minute malapit is not the same as a ten-second malapit.

After I had a bad fall and fractured my right ankle, a friend wisely encouraged me to be patient with my healing. I knew that patience was a virtue, fruit of the Holy Spirit. But I wanted to get better faster. I wanted to know when I would walk again. I kept asking my doctors how soon I could get back to normal walking, when I could put weight on my right leg. When? When? When?

It took me four months of physical therapy before I could walk normally. Seven months after the surgery, I still felt tightness in my right ankle whenever I walked down the stairs.

During this season, God began teaching me to embrace pain with joy. Job is the character in the Bible who is most associated with suffering. Yet he was able to say:

Then I would still have this consolation— my joy in unrelenting pain— that I had not denied the words of the Holy One (Job 6:10).

Job’s comfort and encouragement, his joy in suffering, was that he did not deny God, but remained loyal to God throughout his trials.

Of course, nobody would volunteer to take a difficult test from God. I certainly didn’t volunteer for cancer, and I didn’t volunteer to break my ankle!

Yet from hard splint to air cast, from swelling to healing, from sitting to standing, from hopping to shuffling, from strength to strength (Psa 84:7), God holds my hands and brings me through each difficult time, inviting me to experience his peace that passes understanding.

And because of my fall, I learned how to use a wheelchair, navigate the stairs with crutches, and practice patience—an experience that has made me more compassionate with those who cannot walk.

Before I had my ankle surgery, a friend told me that her doctor brother said, “We do not have to tiis (tolerate) pain unnecessarily.” With all of our medical advances, we certainly do not need to bear pain unnecessarily. Yet there is another kind of pain that no painkiller can fix—the pain of a broken mind, heart, spirit, soul.

Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 51:17 says that “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

We live in a broken world, where we cannot fix things or run away from pain and grief. Yet Christians have assurance that our pain and sufferings are not in vain. For God works out all things—good and bad—for our good, for those he calls for his purpose.

Because of my cancer, I have become more compassionate towards others who are suffering. Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.

As Henri Nouwen wisely observed: “The dance of life finds its beginnings in grief. . . Here a completely new way of living is revealed. It is the way in which pain can be embraced, not out of a desire to suffer, but in the knowledge that something new will be born in the pain.”

When friends come to me for comfort and help, God helps me comfort them with the comfort that I received from him. As Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5).

Paul prayed three times for God to take away his thorn (2 Corinthians 12:7–8). God told him, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8).  God wanted Paul to rely on his power and not to exalt himself.

My pain allowed me to experience fully God’s grace and mercy. I will always remember how God warmly embraced me when I was going through cancer treatment—how he walked me through the deep dark valley of depression, even when my emotional and mental being denied his presence. We embrace pain by remembering pain and how it was overcome. The pain we experienced yesterday can become a steppingstone to joy today.

But until I learn the lessons of patience, God will continue to send difficult people, and put me in places that test my patience. Until I learn the lessons of love, there will always be unlovable, unreasonable, and rude people to test my patience.

The thorns in our life could be God’s means of teaching us something. God wants us to depend on him, to hone our characters and make us more like Jesus.

And so I choose to embrace pain. The world is filled with evil—those who cause violence, calamity, and death. All nature is filled with natural disasters, such as earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, droughts, famines, and floods. Children of God are not exempt from these troubles. But they stand out from the world, because they choose to rejoice amidst the sadness. They have faith in the One who holds the world in his hands. They have hope that one day, Jesus Christ will return to conquer evil and death. They look forward with gladness and hope to spend eternity with their eternal God, forever free from the stronghold of death!

Lord, have mercy and thank you for being patient with me while I learn patience. May I learn to learn it neither too quickly, nor too slowly, but in your beautiful time. Amen.

[i]Henri Nouwen. Here and Now Living in the Spirit. (New York: Crossroad, 1994).

 

Choosing Joy

This morning I reviewed my journal of March 8, 2016. It was entitled To walk away in joy from frustration. Here is the account.

If there’s a will, there’s a way. If I decide not to be pulled down in irritation and frustration, I will find a way and make a choice not to be. How?

First, I need to be aware of the source of my frustration. Why am I upset? I am right…he/she is wrong? I am wronged…is he/she right?

Second, does it matter that much? So what if I am right and he/she’s not? Many times, the source of the conflict and the issue in the conflict are trivial when I look back on it.

Just let it go. I like the Hokkien proverb: “Tsih na bo ngh e bueh tan.” Literal translation: It takes two coins to make a sound. English paraphrase: It takes two to tango. If I decide not to get into the argument, there is no argument. If I decide to let go, then nothing to argue about.

Choose my wars and choose my timing. In the heat of the moment, many things are said which ought not to be. And even if they need to be said, they might not be uttered in the right manner – right words, right tone and right attitude. Let me be slow to anger, slow to speak and quick to listen and quick to hold my tongue. Then I will be one step closer to being joyful (not pulled down with anger and bitterness – in frustration/irritation.)

I often have to review my past – what I wrote almost 2 years ago still applies. Today I am still learning how to live wisely – to choose joy.  I realised the first step towards joy is humility. It is letting go of the ego – to be right; to prove I am right – to win the argument. Many issues that seem so important fade in significance when I look back on it. They are petty and trivial. They are not worth the angst and the grief of fighting over it. Many times I could have saved myself a lot of stress from anger and frustration if only I knew which battles to fight for and which ones to let go.

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Jesus, I come to you. Show me and help me to be gentle and humble like you.  I need wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit to show me. Amen.

Making peace – Love and Respect

When you quarrel with your spouse, how long does it last? How does it end? Door slamming… or tears falling? Or just plain silence… as in cold war? How long does it last? Who makes peace first? How? What does the peacemaker do? How does the other person respond?

Let me illustrate with an example. This afternoon, hubby and I had a heated argument. It ended with him slamming the door on me and me going downstairs to cool down. I thought he’s going to lock me out of our bedroom. But he did not. So we both slept off the afternoon playing cold war.  I often feel like extending the cold war for as long as possible. I realised that I do not stand to gain from such a mindset. Somewhere along the way, life is easier when I make peace. So after our nap, he asked our daughter a question. I answered it even though he was not asking me because our daughter did not know the answer and I did.  So that was my first step to making peace.

Then I followed it up by texting him questions I need him to answer. After dinner, I asked: “Do you want longan or pomelo?” He said later as he just ate some chocolates and had coffee. Finally, I said: Do you want to go out and take a stroll? And so I think that’s the end of our cold war – as long as our afternoon nap.

Many years ago, hubby and I went on a motorbike ride in the woods.. somewhere in the west coast of U.S. It was our first and last time. I remember we went with his friend who was our tour guide on that trip. I knew hubby had never been on a bike before. The trail in the woods was rough and uneven. I confess that I wanted to ride with his friend instead. But no, I was stuck with him.  Seriously, I rode with him because I know as a wife, I have to.. through thick and thin, even when we might fall. I have to trust him to manage so we both stay on the bike. Yes, we did. Even though we stalled and there was a short stop, we didn’t fall off the bike or land on our butt.

My point is as a wife, I need to follow my husband’s lead. Even though many times, I do not agree with him, God is teaching me lessons of love and respect, submission and humility. Through 30 years of this marital journey, we are learning how to love and respect each other.

Oftentimes, pride is my downfall. If only, I shut up or bite my tongue. If I did not indulge in the momentary pleasure of giving him a piece of my mind. He used to say that I provoked him. But why was he so easily provoked? I learned that nothing upset him more than questioning his authority. And so God is teaching me until today, what it means to submit. Submission is not subversion nor is it about suppression. It is not enslaving myself to oppressive authority. Submission is giving deference to his authority as head of the family. He is the leader in our home. He needs me to give him respect. When I do not agree with him, I need to tame my tongue and learn the art of respectful conversation. It is not easy. I often failed. In the heat of the argument, the tone and the words came out unpleasant and often resulted in cold war… and only after the battle of who’s got the last say! It might be him but with me boiling/steaming angry inside. 😦
And so I am still a work-in-progress. God gives me opportunities to practice. Practice makes perfect. By the transformative power of the Holy Spirit, children of God are called to sanctification – a process of being more and more like Jesus. It does not end until our last breath on earth. It is not a smooth road of pure success and no struggle. It is not by might nor by power but only by My Spirit, says the Lord.

And so dear fellow travellers on this similar journey, let us draw encouragement to obey God in making our marriage a God-honoring offering: Eph. 5:22-24

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