I’m twenty-one

Might as well write a post, right?

The defining moment yesterday: I carried the laundry basket in my arms and walked across the hallway- a picture of the birth canal. I thought: twenty one years ago today, I was a singularity. From where there was no consciousness, I was brought to life. And here I am with the fullness of moments, strings of thoughts and feelings, present and past knit together. Here is a snapshot of life: moving forward daily, through to the end of the hallway. Making my way to a graceful exit.

What do I do with a day of affirmations? Shouldn’t I have felt happier? Why wasn’t I able to embrace the love I was receiving?  Somehow I couldn’t tap into the authenticity of people’s messages. I think I’ve always had this erroneous idea that I must strive in order to be loved- that I must give more in order to deserve kindness. If I truly understood their hearts for a moment – the thoughts of my brother, my sister, my best friends and my acquaintances about me – I’d be brought to tears.

I think we must remind ourselves of the absolute reality that we are intrinsically valuable. God only makes remarkable creatures and He delights in me. He likes me, no matter what I do- just because I am.

It is a privilege to be surrounded by such talented and amazing people in my acapella group. It is a privilege to learn French, even though it takes me five hours to type one page. It is a privilege to send out an email at 2am for my sorority. As my friend so wisely put it: “even on my worst days, my resting state is all the way up here”. Yes! I am resting perpetually on the apex; I am wonderful and I do not have to prove it. Thank you Jesus! If I am already loved, if I am already victorious, what is holding me back from loving the things that I am doing, the things that I am a part of? Nothing. I am walking in His light today.

 

Advertisements

Out of dust

Sophie's picture

Photo of New Zealand by my grandfather. 

I am tucked in the middle of a queen-sized bed in my favourite black bralette. Family Guy is running in the background and in front of me is a scenic painting of Norwegian mountains. I have a glass of water beside me, a cup of tea, a bowl of jelly beans and a dry-fit hiking hat I told my granddad I liked. That hat has been to the untouched underbrush of New Zealand, the snow tipped French Alps and the coves of Mallorca.

Grandparents love to spoil their grandchildren, especially grandchildren they don’t see often. Love pours out of their eyeballs, like dew drops by the bridge of their noses (they’re not crying, it’s just something that happens when the glands are tired). “Let me get you coffee!” said my grandma. “Let me get these tickets for you” said my grandpa. But the best part of it all is that time with them is sacred. Momentous. The fact of your existence is already a joy and you are an exquisite thing to be learned and absorbed. They get the gist of you, your knack for the arts a red pin in your profile. Your favourite colour, a pair of killer heels on a card for when you had a phase for fashion illustration. A photo of a dog, a cut-out from the newspaper, something they think you’d like. Being around them is so plainly satisfying. There’s so much to learn from these wizened souls, the ripples of influence forever expanding from their ancestors to your parents and now to you. We carry each other in one way or another, the memory of you ingrained in the way I pay close attention to harmonies, enraptured. In the way my desk mirrors the clutter in your kitchen, a projection of the sparks in your mind.

The older generation knows that tomatoes are picked from trees, not grown in baskets. Grandparents raised in the countryside have a special appreciation for the world that moves without us, the scuttling of hedgehogs at night and the turning of leaves from lime to amber. They are in wonderment of the Earth, the ancient trees, the land that gives and gives us life. The carpeted floors of moss, the gentle trot of speckle-breasted does by crystal streams. Life all around us, nudging us into humility. Beautiful without even trying! And you see how they used to think the gods were everywhere.

I walked through the fields, weeds tickling my ankles. In the dust from which I came, I thought, horse poo trailing my Nikes. Out sprung a blackberry bush, and I picked at them with fervour, bearing the sting of nettles on my hip and hands. Not to fear, they grow by Doc leaves, I remembered my dad once said. I rubbed the leaves on the swollen bumps and the pulsing in my hands abated. The Earth provides. I went home, boiled the blackberries and made dessert. The Earth provides.

Synchronicity

I’ve been feeling like I’ve put a cap on my faith, a roof to what’s possible and reasonable to expect in my life. I’m drawn to this particular issue because I’ve been seeing this Faith theme pop up everywhere, from an article I’ve stumbled across, a random sermon online, to a book I’ve been reading called Synchronicity: The Promise of Coincidence.

I’m determined to flip this thing around. The more outrageous my prayers and hopes, the greater the power of God I can see revealed. Because He is capable of more than our wildest expectations, if we only ask. However, as I’m writing this, I feel it is careful to ask with the right sort of attitude. With honesty, trust, and humility. A profound understanding that we need His guidance and a deep gratitude for His care and love. He answers not because we deserve it- not because we go to church, not because we clean our trays at McDonald’s so that no one else has to- but because He is good.

‘Truly I tell you that if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and has no doubt in his heart but believes that it will happen, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours’.
– Mark 11:24

Our God is a God of miracles, an unseen supernatural being with whom we can communicate and witness the work of in the material world. I remember believing as a child that the world was full of magic; I flipped through my books on mermaid and fairy sightings, immersing myself in a world where they could be found in countryside cottages, in the hollows of trees or by secluded rock pools. It was my favourite thing to do, fostering a sense of excitement for these enchanting creatures. I loved the Harry Potter books, where there is no limit to the wonders of life, an epic reality where dreaming is synonymous with creation. I wish to redirect that childish, misguided faith and bring openness and expectation to God.

Synchronicity speaks of God’s many thoughts about us, His plans and provisions. It is the idea of perfect coincidences which are in fact, not coincidences at all. I learnt a neat little fact: there is no word or concept of ‘coincidence’ in Hebrew. Only the word ‘mikreh’, which means ‘a happening of God’. Every moment is significant. When good things happen, give thanks, for they come straight from His hands. Sometimes, little ‘signs’ appear just to remind me that He is present and watching. And it has proven helpful in deterring me from sinning a couple of times. Sometimes a web page doesn’t load, the phone rings or a door is knocked on, so I get a chance to rethink what I’m doing. Every time, it is for my good.
When bad things happen, they prepare us for more of Him. They are opportunities! Last week, I strained my right leg doing exercise. Pulled a muscle. And I remembered what this yoga instructor said to me earlier that week: “if you ever tear a muscle or hurt your leg, once you recover, you’ll be more flexible than you were before”. This experience serves as an analogy for what my friend said the other day when I confided in him about my struggle with lust. It was so special: think how He must love you to let you have these desires, this challenge, so that you may experience Him and know Him better. So that I will learn to rely on the One who brings victory. I will trust in His unfailing love.

Here’s a snippet from an awesome article I read today:

The true disciple is an expectant person, always taking it for granted that there is something about to break through from the master, something about to burst through the ordinary and uncover a new light on the landscape.

And I think that living in expectancy—living in awareness, your eyes sufficiently open and your mind sufficiently both slack and attentive to see that when it happens— has a great deal to do with discipleship, indeed with discipleship as the gospels present it to us. Interesting (isn’t it?) that in the gospels the disciples don’t just listen, they’re expected to look as well. They’re people who are picking up clues all the way through.

Rowan Williams

I have started to pray: give me a big faith, God. A hope against all hope. I want to be excited for each new day, because I get to experience more of You.

Rom/antics

So, I stopped myself from sending you a post. It would’ve earned a chuckle, and you’d have confirmation that I remember things about you and that you still surface from time to time. Like a whiteboard stain.

***

I romanticised my English teacher when I saw pictures of his newly furnished house. Wooden panels, artistically placed photographs he no doubt collected. A curtain separating the living room from the bedroom, used also to dim the lights for movies on the couch. A personal cinema. Someone could lay their head on his lap (I still can’t decide if it’s a man or a woman), whilst he holds a glass of wine, as he does after an evening of marking. On a school night, as he seems to be in the cheeky habit of doing and admitting. He’d put on his favourite movies, or they would watch a new cinematic masterpiece together and discuss it’s merits and downfalls. “Well that was shit…” I can imagine him saying. Or he’d bury his face in his hands, mouth slightly open. “I just can’t believe we spent two fucking hours watching that”, and they’d both burst out laughing. “Horrendous”, she’d/ he’d say. “Just awful“. And it’d become a running joke, with lines from the movie quoted and recited back and forth. It’d be one of those deeply inspiring relationships, full of beautiful lively moments. Good stories to tell. They’d see jazz performers, experience sunrises and green smoothies together, spend nights soaking in music from speakers he’d saved up to buy… I respect anyone who, though lives humbly, owns a pair of high quality speakers. I will marry you for that and your bookshelf.

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.

It’s you

You make me want to kick and scream “I’m not like that!” But I’m sorry to admit that I am like that, when it comes to you. I’ll be anything you want me to be. Fickle. And I hate that I’ve taught you that I’m no fortress; I’m an open door. Welcome, fuck me (up) whenever! But how can this be when you haven’t made a home in me? Why is it that you’ve never had to ask nicely for anything- that I’m pulling you into me before the clamouring of a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t?

What’s worse than someone who doesn’t know that they’re the special occasion, you ask? Someone who abuses that privilege. Don’t make me angry with myself. Guard my pride as if it were your own.

This could’ve been a good thing, you know. If you cared for my best interests. Shouldn’t our wills be bent towards the person we love if he loves us more than himself? Where pride has no place?  Where we’d do anything for them and melt into their embrace even in our anger? Our emotions serve a functional purpose. Women aren’t crazy. It’s not me, darling. It’s you.

Oddity

The thing is, it doesn’t matter what I mean to you at the end of the day. I’ll be the person who cares genuinely, even if I’m caring alone. I’d rather my gaze reflect something about the way I want to love than what I want from you. Here’s a sliver of old timey yearning for a time and place where you look at me like that too.

– – – – –

Lupe Fiasco’s lyrics struck a chord today:
Any love less than unconditional is so
Under-Christian, it’s unrepentant.

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.

For the love of God

Should I finish the book, the Final Cut Pro tutorial, edit a video or read the bible? I snapped a couple of people on snapchat and scrolled under ‘Following’ on Instagram, admiring beautiful doe-eye models. Why am I staring at this picture of a really big, toned butt? I forced myself to look away and opened a tab featuring an article on suicide bombings in Lebanon. That should make up for how vapid I feel.

I gravitated towards the bible. If there’s anything I must do today, this is it. I lifted it off the piano and found a spot on the living room floor. St. Teresa stressed that by keeping in our minds Jesus’ sufferings, we fare all the better in knowing and loving our God in this life. I thus chose a passage from Mark to focus on Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane.

Before I began reading, I looked through my Worship playlist- just to set the mood, prepare my heart and all that. But I found no comfort in the song I chose; I could not shake an unsettling feeling. I was afraid to close my eyes. I was afraid of the dark, of being alone in the living room, of the dreams I’ve been having recently. Nightmares. Devils. Why am I so afraid, Lord? Why am I more afraid of Satan than I am of You? And I chose this special song: Loud Harp- The Fire and The Flood. This time when you come, don’t hide Your face. This time when you come, don’t keep silent. Oh bring the fire, burn what isn’t You. Open the flood, overwhelm us… And as I began to pray these words in my heart, singing silently to the Lord in desperation, the tears started falling. The floodgates had opened. Take everything that does not belong to You, take everything that is wrong, every sin, every fear away from me. And as I cried with my head strained towards the heaven that was my ceiling, I noticed a single tear trail down my cheek, my neck, my throat. I was made aware of how much my throat ached. I could not fully enjoy God because of it- because I had too much to drink the night before. I knew then that You did not approve- that it pained You too. Thank You for this resolution I would never have willingly come to myself: if alcohol makes it difficult to live worshipfully, goodbye alcohol.

As the next song came on, I reached for my earphones but found myself unable to pull them away. So unwilling. I was being lulled into enjoyment. Into Your arms, the singer cooed. I am giving away the joy of drunkenness and replacing it with the greatest joy- the joy of Your love and friendship. Of being close to You. And suddenly I heard the door open as my mother shuffled to the other room. I ducked my head, wiped my cheeks. She could not see me like this. I waited for her to pass: more listening, less crying. You found me and you pulled me out. You found me and you brought me home… You are a good Father, this is a good home. How is it that You are allowing me such heights of happiness although I have sinned? And I felt such humility, Lord, that only You can evoke. Is this how You punish Your people? By lavishing us with your love? By giving us gifts? And I understood that this is what St. Teresa meant by:

Indeed, at the very times when I most offended You, You quickly prepared me by a very great repentance, to taste Your gifts and graces. Truly, my King, You used the most refined and painful punishment that I could possibly have borne, since You well knew what would give me the greatest pain. You chastised my sins with great favours… But to find myself receiving fresh graces when I had shown so little gratitude for those already received, is a kind of torture that is terrible to me, and to everyone, I believe, who has any knowledge or love of God. (p.58)

Such exquisite remorse, such heartbreak for having sinned against so good and loving a God. And yet how joyous I felt to experience this pain, for it is a marker of my love for You- and I know that You are pleased! With my head bowed to the ground I felt with my entire being my lowliness, my unworthiness, my overwhelming gratitude. Such a sweet place to be. Thank you, thank you.

Then, I was ready to encounter Your word. As soon as I read the words of Jesus: “My soul is swallowed up in sorrow- to the point of death” (Mk 14:34), I bawled. I couldn’t breathe. My face felt like it was going to burst, my intestines about to fly, about to shatter like glass in a microwave a second too long. I felt the depth of Your suffering, Jesus, so moved by Your love for us. You died for those who hated you, accused You and lauded it over You when truly You were and are king of the universe, blameless like no other. Although You despised their sin, You loved them at the greatest harm to Yourself: abandoned by Your friends and at the moment of death- Your own father. I could do nothing but weep.

Jesus repeatedly commanded his disciples to “stay awake and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk 14:38). I thought about wakefulness, vigilance, sober-mindedness. The act of prayer and the state of wakefulness– the two together, are safeguards against sin and succumbing to the weakness of the flesh. The disciples, being humans fundamentally weak, could not stay awake. They fell asleep when they were supposed to guard their beloved Jesus. You had just one job, guys! Alas, humans fall short, and in consequence, Jesus was “betrayed into the hands of sinners” ( Mk 14:41). Not only by Judas but by those who claimed to love Him. Thus we must always be alert, not trusting ourselves, lest we squander our spirits and betray our God.

It is comforting to know that even Jesus, whose spirit was willing, could not escape the dread of what was to come. He understands our sufferings, the struggles of being human. He prayed and begged on his knees for deliverance: “All things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me” (Mk 14:36). Yet, he consented to the ultimate will: “Nevertheless, not that I will but what You will” (MK 14:36). And it is this same spirit that is willing, that wants to please God in me. Every good intention, thought, and deed comes from God. I could not find an inkling of love inside me if it weren’t for You granting me this tenderness. I thank You. These tears are not my own. So, in order to nourish and sustain my spirit, I need to keep praying. If I love Jesus, I must remember Him and how He suffered for me. My spirit never wants to forget but my humanity will. I must not abandon the Lord and fall asleep. I must feed my spirit constantly- more necessary than food, more of a staple than brushing my teeth, to keep my conscience clean.

Like newborn infants, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good. Peter 2:2-3

I know now it is no loss, Lord, to give up any of the pleasures of this world for You. I can never give more than what You have given, have promised to give, and are giving me every day. I know now that learning to pray and learning about You this summer is more valuable than any number of skills and talents. May I never tire of prayer or believe it done in vain. If I seek You, I will most assuredly find You.