Twentytooth

The long awaited birthday post. I have begun to hate reflection because it is a harrowing process of pointing out all the things I could’ve or should’ve done better. This year I’ve come to another iteration of my True Limiting Factor: striving to change myself (ironically)!

The obsession with being better, of growing and having made progress has shackled me. Has made me depressed. And makes me depressed. Somebody I consider a mentor told me that she once regarded her eating disorder as a thorn in her side, something she wished would just disappear. Something she begged God or the universe to take away. Then, at some point the thought stirred: what if this thorn was meant to teach me something? What if all these vices and destructive habits are clinging onto me because they are attracted to my punishment-based, self-hating mindset?
How can I be with the things I loathe about myself, such that I no longer hate myself at all? How can I accept that this living, eternal being that I am is enough, as I am?

See, it’s the same track over and over again and I’m getting tired of hearing it. The driving impulse to fix myself and try harder – how ludicrous to think I have failed even at loving myself! I’ll stop fiddling with the thorns, entrapping them ever deeper. God will perfect me His own way, as the only doctor who can heal my hurts and habits.

Today, I am a new creation. 22 with some two grey hairs.

Sophie, you are loved when you are late to class, eat too much, speak too hastily, snap impatiently, lose your new gadgets, spend too much, neglect your responsibilities, procrastinate, sit idly, think inappropriately, selfishly, and carnally. You are loved when you have nothing to say, when you feel like you don’t know a thing. I love you still. 

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Project Sleepover

Right now, I have a belly full of bagel and multi-flavoured doughnut pieces. It is my right, having come out of a rigorous quarter, a presentation at 8am this morning and a 50 paged curriculum report.

My group and I aimed to finish last night, starting at 7pm and working until 5am, on the brink of delirium. I had a pounding headache and I felt my anger flare whenever my group members went on tangents. Hey, I just want to finish this. Why are we (or you) talking about stupid Vines and laughing about inconsequential things? I flitted between annoyance and great admiration for their graciousness; they never once spoke with an edge in their voices. Their frustrations existed in a bubble which floated above us- something of a spectacle to poke at.
“Fuuuuck this thing, honestly I don’t even care anymore, she can dock us down for this, I’ll take it!” said the girl I’d once pinned down as an unassertive type. Sleepovers reveal the magic in everyone.
One of them lounged on his side, peering at the presentation through half-lidded eyes. “Remember when I asked whether or not you had already played the video? I literally fell asleep,” he chuckled.
They held me in their circle of play and gave me focused attention when I needed it most. My hand shot up multiple times as they joked, in a realm of my own, waiting for my turn. “I see you,” Kieran would say, smiling. It was always her. Unhurried, patient, kind.
In the wee hours of the morning, the three musketeers were the last ones standing; they stayed up to upload the document and figure out the formatting whilst I went to sleep. As we drove to school together, I found myself wishing I shared in the fullness of camaraderie borne of sleep deprivation and mutual suffering. I came away with an appreciation for the lightness with which they live, a kind of freedom and acceptance of the way things are. A sense that, though this is by no means ideal, it is by no means crushing either.

2 Corinthians 4:8-9
We are pressed on all sides, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

Beach day

Sand dunes, mountains with pot holes. He’s skidding along the slopes, his tiny feet plodding and skipping over certain death.

A little girl piles onto an ever-growing bucket of sand, a castle in it’s own right. “Cover the seaweed, cover the seaweed”, she chants with a rhythm and inflection that births a jingle.

Pink sun-hat on her head, she grabs at star-shaped biscuits the with little crabby hands. Hand to bowl, smash to mouth and repeat.

The young leaders: “guys!” They keep digging. “Guys listen!” They pat at the walls of the trenches they have dug. “Guys listen to me!” This time exasperated. “Let’s dig a third hole, right over there!” He gets started and the others nod.
Another girl whips her head around to her friend and says “I’ll show you where to go”. She jumps into the sea without looking back to see if anyone is following.

He wades in tentatively. Stares as the sand suck at his feet. Forwards, a cool flush, backwards, the liquid rolls.

A watering hole. A puddle surrounding the pipe. Good for washing hands and feet, he’s discovered.

Things flow downstream. Just dig a line towards the sea and pour water from the very top. Watch as it flows like a viscous substance. Slurred, languorous.

Little boy follows the trail, the dip in the sand. It must lead somewhere, it’s a path after all.

Dark barley grains, black almost. They must be collected and separated from the lighter sand. How else does one layer the cake?

From time immemorial, the fetching of water. To the sea they go, and back to home base. Used for building. Used to refill the temporary well, the water mysteriously disappearing underground.

Poppy

The parents are coming back soon, tomorrow-soon, which means two things: I’ll have the luxury of considering a wax and I won’t be won’t be able to blast music or play the piano in the late am. I remember the glorious first day after they left; the clothes came off and the music came on. I shimmied in the mirror and swirled my imaginary skirt like a queen because I owned this place. It was so liberating. I had the license to grab the wine, sleep on the sofa, do whatever I pleased. Almost like having my own apartment. Minus what it takes to survive in real life: bills, cooking, cleaning. Thank God for grandmothers.

Have I been wearing clothes at home for a month? No, the answer is no. And I don’t want to do away with this privilege. My grandmother and my aunt have grown accustomed to the butt cheeks peeking out of my undies. It’s kind of funny how my grandmother so cooly remarked: “oh you’re not wearing clothes again”. It’s fine as long as there are no dudes around, she says. We both pull up our shirts when it gets too hot.

This summer, I’ve learned that I’m more like her than I ever would have imagined and hoped for. I remember delighting over the fact that my grandmother and I were both born in the year of the Rat… Because nothing feels better than being comparable to someone or something you love dearly. My counsellor said that we resemble our greatest influences and attachment figures, and this has revealed to me a completely new and refreshing dimension to self-discovery. When she said it, I was like- of course! But it never occurred to me that it applied to me too. It gives me such hope for the person I’d like to be and the person I’m becoming.

She and I share commonalities on many levels. We both love talking to people and learning tidbits from them; stories with morals, testimonies, anecdotes and transgenerational wisdom. We love to laugh and she is often the object of my teasing- only because she is such a good sport. In fact, I basically christened her with another English name, because ‘Susan’ didn’t quite suit her. It was kind of a joke but it stuck. She’s animated, expressive, creative, and she loves to do things. Sounds like I’m describing myself. I love her honesty and her innocence, although she has seen and suffered more than I ever have. I would like to think that I evaluate my intentions with the same conviction she does, with the same brutal honesty: I am wrong. Even if it is normal because everyone participates to some extent, I am still wrong. But the thing that makes her a gift to everyone she meets is that she is selfless, loving, and generous. If I’m to pinpoint something that sets my heart on fire and makes me happy to be alive, it is to witness the joy of one who receives love. I am compassionate and forgiving. Not all the time, I regret, but these are qualities I love and treasure in myself. Where did I learn them? I can’t say for sure but I think I have a pretty good guess.

No hard feelings

Today, I made a couple of mistakes. Two, to be exact. First, I was all packed and ready for my Muay Thai class. Wrists wrapped, full water bottle, a change of clothes. I got there, peeked through the locked door, and saw that the only semblance of a human being was a hamstring stretched across the floor. The one instructor who’s stretch I interrupted opened the door and regarded me with mild amusement. Sorry you’re an idiot, he seemed to say. Apparently I have to call to make appointments. I had mistakenly generalized the expectation that classes would go on with or without me, as is the case with bigger and more established gyms. I blabbered on about what I didn’t know, quickly resigning myself to the fact that he wasn’t going to give me a private lesson. Come on, I’ve come all the way here. And I’d worked up a sweat coming up the stairs. He called me ‘pretty girl’. What a waste of my #athleisure.

As I was about to leave, I spotted another poster: FIT! GYM! PERFECT! I made my way over to the place, as half-assed as my now singularly wrapped wrists. I’ll cheat my way into a free trial gym session, I decided. What did I have to lose? I smiled my best Duchenne smile, approached the receptionist and said “so do you guys do trial sessions or what?” She handed me over to the manager. And he brought me to an office with a table and two chairs. He’s a friend of celebrities, a retired Kong Fu artist and stunt double. He’s well traveled and speaks to me as a father would about potential. The next thing I know, I’m befriending the entire place, his buddies who are good at salsa, the woman on staff who shows me the sauna in the changing room. He greets a gym-goer, whom I recognize as someone who graduated the year I finished my first year of highschool. We both do a double-take. For some reason, I let the manager in on the secret. I know that guy! And he is more than happy to share with me the details of the Graduate’s life- he’s a really great jazz musician; comes from a family of them, Filipinos. He’s been going to this gym for years, have you met his girlfriend? At the end of it all, when he’s circling the prices, I am the one who feels cheated. This is a members-only gym, he said, finally. From the beginning, there was no chance of a free trial. From the beginning, there was no chance of my joining. I wonder if he could sense the reticence. Deception stinks; I can’t tell if I’ve made a friend…

Life lesson: when you’re a liar, you have a general mistrust of others.
Glorious moment: when Colbie Caillat’s ‘Bubbly’ played at the gym. Ye get pumped!

Cucumbers

Lord, I cannot hide from You. Help me to discover how You surpass any sinful desire I might find appealing at the moment. Help me to see that they are lies that muddy my vision for true joy and satisfaction. Help me to train my heart to a new love, in the same way that I’ve recently discovered that avocados are actually really good on their own. Not with nachos and salsa, not in a whole wheat sandwich, not meagerly spooned over salad. Just straight up, scooped out of it’s gravely shell. And it’s good for me. See, ‘unhealthy’ chips are now too salty for my liking. The bulk of my diet consists of vegetables (cucumbers especially!!) and fruits, and it’s not even because I’m forcing myself to eat healthy. I now prefer vegetables to chocolate even, which used to be unthinkable. I can’t fake these newfound enjoyments and it’s amazing to think that they’re working in my favour. It’s like, finally, some of my desires are aligned with that which is good for me. I’m so used to the opposite- driving straight into disaster because I refuse to believe in the alternative. Too consumed by what is immediately satisfying. So help me be truthful in my enjoyment of You, so that I may see and believe that You are only good. 

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”.
– John Piper

‘I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.’
– Psalm 27:13

The depths of indifference

I wrote this last summer:

In fact I am happy to be going back to LA. I have found a window to sit under. Tea whenever. I can leave the campus at three am and walk into the city if I wanted to. I do meet people randomly all the time. There’s no good time to date? I disagree. There is a time called not now. When I’m not happy enough myself, not whole enough independently to let anyone in. I don’t want to depend on another person to make myself sane, or have my feelings so wrapped around this person that I don’t know who I am. I have boundaries, I am an individual. And this will not change with a man.

My thoughts on relationships have stayed the same. With the additional: I only want a man who can help me serve God better. I love love love to see growth- both in myself and in others. Probably why I like reading and blogging so much. I see that I’ve only grown more in love with Los Angeles… Even then, I was a little indifferent about the city itself. I’ve learned that indifference is something I cannot stand. It stops me from writing and being creative. I’d pick depressed over indifferent any day- unless indifference is a symptom (#defeated). I just hate going out for dim sum with my grandmother and my aunt, unwilling to smile or even clear my throat. There is nothing to say. I might as well not be here. I have no feeling towards these human beings. I don’t even look up when my helper speaks to me or hands me a plate of scrambled eggs. “Thanks”, I say as I scroll through Daily Mail. The one saving grace is the intense jealousy I feel inspecting every documentation of Tom Hiddleston and Taylor’s romance. It must be a ploy. But Tom is too good a person to play the media like that.

I’m writing about indifference because, in spite of learning not to base my self-worth on the certainty afforded by achievements, part of me is still obsessed with pinning down favourite somethings. I rejoice over little discoveries that confirm that yes, I can be moved. Yessss, I am not a waste of space! I feel like a failure if I don’t know myself enough to come up with an answer to “what are your favourite artists?” It mostly-always throws me into an identity crisis. But here’s something: it’s okay to enjoy the feel of songs rather than their content. That can be equally as important and profound. I appreciate what sounds can do! Let your memories perform.
I don’t need to have a favourite artist or a go-to song. I listen to songs that suit the mood; it must fit the vibe of this real-time movie. I just don’t know why I find this so uncomfortable to come to terms with! As long as I find my stability in Jesus, I don’t need any other favourites to mark me as an individual. He is my constant.

What we like so much is someone who is authentically happy with themselves. The best thing is to be confident in what you believe in, to stand tall knowing that you are living out your principles regardless of what people think or say. To not have to fake anything. To be honestly radiant, without even trying. The antidote to my indifference, I initially thought, was to change the scenery. Maybe, go out into the city and drink more coffee. See a friend I really like. But I’ve come to my senses: the change begins INSIDE my head and heart. It’s all about perspective. Because the minute my family left for Canada and I said goodbye to my helper as she prepared for Indonesia, I remembered all the reasons why I loved them. The way my dad kisses my forehead, how my mum praises me for home exercises, how my helper always goes above and beyond in her generosity and thoughtfulness. How my sister makes me laugh and how she always looks at me with admiration and fondness. I am always surrounded by such love. Indifference melts away when I remember.