One of the biggest dilemmas of life is this: To understand what you are here for and what you should do about it.

Intertwined into this terribly complex subject matter is the issue of your faith. It is not just about what you fill into the Religion field of a form detailing your personal details. It is the entire trajectory of your life. The sum of all your life choices, convictions and the very core of what makes up your personality. The sense you make of your past. The force driving you to push forward into a better future.

These are such important aspects of your life that they are so hard to fathom. And even tougher to write about.

Yet I feel that I should attempt once again to talk about these things to you, my dear reader. It’s been a long time since I have done this. And regrettably so. But I have had such a hard time sorting out these thoughts in my head for a very long time. In fact, I continue to ponder some of these issues every day. Some questions remained unanswered. But time and again, I have found that I have enough to keep me going, to assure me of things yet to come.

So I am writing this post with the intention of communicating the hope that I have found for myself. That impetus for things unknown. That anchor for the soul.

I am here to talk about my journey of faith and where it has taken me. I feel small, because my tale pales in comparison to so many other more spectacular ones out there. Yet this is my story. And it ought to be the song I sing to any willing to listen. Or in this case, whosoever should read these posts of mine.

There’s so much of background stories to address that I don’t know where to start, honestly. But let’s just talk about what’s happening currently. And then maybe, if the need arises, we can, figuratively speaking, travel through time to help it all make better sense to you.

I am, at the moment, a mother to a toddler on the brink of preschool, and a wife to a man contemplating a career move. I am also a self employed individual, supplementing family income, but at a reduced capacity due to my choice to work at home to look after my son.

I am also the daughter to church leaders. My father is an elder of a small independent Charismatic church, and my mother has been in and out of church leadership roles in support of my father’s position throughout the years. My parents have also played a part in pioneering several churches that are now among the biggest ones in the Klang Valley. This is my legacy and the foundations upon which my life has been built.

I am a Christian, both by heritage, but also by personal choice. I believe in upholding virtues of truth, justice and integrity at all costs. I live my life seeking a higher purpose, one that is determined by God alone and which I believe He would reveal to me if I maintained a close relationship with Him.

I question daily the decisions that I have made to be where I am presently. Did I choose right? Is it affecting my family’s quality of life in a positive way?

One major dissatisfaction that I consistently have is with regards to the state of my spiritual life, because I used to do so much more in this area than what I do today. In essence, I often feel displaced, unsure of my footing and what I should be aiming for. The destination I should be heading towards.

I do not have a lot of the answers I long for. I am frequently cynical when I review my past and what it has made me become. Sometimes I feel somewhat resentful towards God because I was promised a lot in my earlier days, and it doesn’t seem like any of it is materialising at all in real life.

I have reached a point in life where I openly admit that I have no idea anymore where I’m headed in life. I just know, for every given moment in time, what my focus should be and which responsibilities I should shoulder. Currently, I believe my main objective is to nurture my family (support my husband in whatever he does and raise my child well).

What I am certain of is that the decision to be at home with my son and relinquish a full time job was God’s will for me at the time my son was born. What I was (and am) not sure about was how long this would last or what should happen next. I am reaching the point where I need to contemplate what this should be.

Amidst this uncertainty, while I was attending Sunday service, I was prayed for by one of the prominent women in my church. At the time she approached me, I was praying with Luke 5:5 in mind. I was telling God that all I needed was a word. A word from Him and I would spring into action to do whatever it was that He desired of me.

And then this lady prayed for me. Much was said, but the one thing I want to share here is that she mentioned that I was seeking a solution and that God was my solution. A cliche thing, I suppose, to any bystander eavesdropping on us. But to me, it clicked somehow.

I am worrying about how my husband and I will afford preschool for my son. We have yet to work it all out, or to even decide on where to send him. But this. This timely encouragement from a church member who knows almost nothing about the finer details of my life, is what I needed to hear.

I am still working things out over here. But I am comforted.

And this brings me to the main thing I would like to say in this post. The fact that we are always questioning and seeking what God’s will for our lives is. He most definitely has a master plan for it all, but the reasons that He only reveals it partially to us are unknown. What I do know now is that He does this on purpose, and it’s for a good reason. Because if He told all, we’d likely think we are smart enough to make it without Him. But we aren’t. So we need to trust that when He is in charge, it will all be alright.

We need to have faith. To abandon the familiar paths and formulas and conventional wisdom that others tell us is the right way to go. We have to realise that ours is a unique journey, and that nothing or no one can prepare us for it. Yet we have all that we need to make it through. We have Jesus. He is all we ever need.

* * *

Then He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the multitudes from the boat.

When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word, I will let down the net.”

And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.

And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.”

So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed Him.

– Luke 5:4-11 (NKJV)

Michael W. Smith: A Million Lights

Just heard this song for the first time awhile ago. And I felt I just wanted to post it. However short this post may be. It being 4+am in the morning and all.

Michael W. Smith’s music has been such a big part of my life, all throughout my growing years. So many songs with tons of memories to go with them. I even had a book of piano scores for his The First Decade album which I meticulously learned to play, even memorising quite a few of them.

Even in the not-so-distant past while I was still a journalist, I remember being greatly encouraged by his more recent tunes such as You Won’t Let Go.

I don’t really know much about how he gets the inspiration for his songs or puts together the content, but I can say I have been greatly blessed by his music. This guy who is much older than I am and who lives so far away in another continent from me has made an impact in my life. I can only hope that I can someday have such a great influence on someone else.

Anyway, with regards to this presently new tune, what struck me the most was the lyrics of the second verse:

A million days
In every one I’ve seen Your face
I know I’ll never be alone
Even darkness comes awake

For You
All the stars are singing
With You
Every day I’m feeling

Even darkness comes awake.

Easy to forget, and yet, it is right there amidst the opening lines of the Bible. And if He can command light from darkness, surely everything else about my life is just a cinch to Him. It’s this assurance that makes all those million days or more of life worth battling through.

I’m not as alive as I used to be, especially in a spiritual, inner being sense. But perhaps the stars ought to remind me of those things that never change: how He holds everything together.

Hope you like the song as much as I do.

MercyMe: Lifer

This here is a brilliant album that you absolutely must listen to. Here’s why I think so.

I first stumbled upon MercyMe’s Lifer album in the wee hours of one random weekday morning.

It is quite common for me to be odd hours in the night (and early morning) nowadays, and sometimes, when it’s just me who’s awake while the rest are still snoozing, it can sometimes start to feel a tad lonely. So one of the ways I deal with this is by putting on some music.

Having previously already been a fan of MercyMe, I was happy to find that there was a new album to their name that came out this year and decided to give it a spin. I totally did not regret it.

To sum it up in just a few words, for those of you who love pop music, this one’s literally music to your ears. And even if you’re not one who is familiar with contemporary Christian music, it is likely you will hear something familiar somewhere in the musical arrangement of these songs.

There will those out there who would make parallels to the musical styles of these songs and pull out their secular equivalents for comparison. Or mentions will be made of the musical influences behind the tunes (which involve mostly secular artistes). However, I do not want to go down either path because to be honest, I believe Christian artistes are just as creative and original as their secular counterparts, hence such comparisons are unnecessary 🙂

All I am saying though is that I believe you will still feel right at home with these tunes even if you’re not a current MercyMe fan or are new to contemporary Christian music.

To give you an idea of how much I love this album, let me say that it is one of those where I can literally waltz through every single track and not want to skip a single thing. There aren’t many albums in recent times of which I can say this, so I think this makes it rank pretty high on my list of Superb Albums Out There.

Right from the opening title track, Lifer, there is clearly a upbeat and very much uplifting vibe to the album. This continues right through the entire track list, although there are more contemplative, quieter moments thrown into the mix here and there. The messages of hope and joy and the promise of abundant life that is ours as believers in Jesus Christ shines through very clearly though. And that is as it should be, since this is after all a Christian artiste we are talking about.

From what I gathered through reading other online reviews and listener comments, most people really liked the songs Even If and Happy Dance. I have to agree with this view for Happy Dance, though I am not a huge fan of Even If, but that does not mean I totally dislike it either. I just happen to think it’s more of the stereotypical contemporary Christian song so it’s nothing that outstanding.

Personally, my favourite tracks were Lifer, Happy Dance and Heaven’s Here. I loved them for the lyrics as much as I loved them for the musical arrangements and overall feel to these songs.

I’m not sure what other ways I ought to use to convince you that Lifer is worth a good listen. I guess the best way is to leave you with this music video of Happy Dance to help you experience a small slice of the album for yourself. Hope you’ll like it as much as I did. Enjoy 🙂

Camp Nanowrimo excerpt: Eczema & me

If you’re wondering how things are going for me at Camp Nanowrimo, thing’s aren’t going too great. As expected, I have fallen behind. I guess I was trying to inject too much creative writing into the project. I shall be attempting to craft more candid, straight-up kind of writing pieces to fill in the gaps. And hopefully, I will catch up somehow. The prognosis is rarely good at this stage: I typically give up. But… well, fingers crossed. 

For now, though, here’s an exceprt of something I wrote in the spirit of catching up. It’s still within the theme of my project, of course, and also features me getting a bit vulnerable in my writing by sharing with you about my personal life. 

Enjoy! 😉

*    *    *

Eczema & me

Apparently I was diagnosed with this skin disorder even before I was one year old. As far back as I can remember, I have been quite literally plagued with skin problems. Many times, it seemed like there was hardly ever a moment of reprieve.

What this means is that I am almost always scratching or having a previously clawed wound in the midst of the healing process at some spot or another on my body. On those even more unfortunate times, I’d also be battling some curious allergic reaction in addition to my typical eczema woes.  

Nowadays, it appears to be rather common for children to suffer from eczema. But back in the days when I was growing up, it was less so. So I endured a fair share of teasing and getting ostracised. I guess that’s because it not only looks unsightly, but some have the mistaken belief that I might pass on some allergy to them if they hung around me. I recall being called “kucing kurap” by a peer in primary school before. 

Seeking to alleviate my discomfort, my parents made it a point to write letters to my teachers requesting that I’d be exempted from Physical Education (P.E.) activities. So I’d often find myself sitting it out while my classmates played netball, ran in circles around the field, etc. Oddly enough, I do remember joining in on certain days… but as to why I participated during certain P.E. periods and not others is something that has since been forever lost from my memory.  

“Don’t scratch!” is probably the most frequently used phrase that I heard growing up. Usually, I would ignore this instruction. That’s mostly because you just have to scratch an itch. Those who believe it’s possible to completely endure it have obviously not had enough of them throughout their lifetime.  

Besides providing a sense of relief, scratching eczema patches is also hugely therapeutic. This is especially so when it’s a large patch of dry skin that has recently healed and is covered in scabs. There’s something strangely satisfying about peeling off an entire surface of scabby skin with your fingernails, one piece at a time. You’d have to experience it for yourself to understand. (FYI, I’ve talked to a friend who also suffers from eczema and he has verified this fact too as he finds it is also true in his own life).  

A common reaction to the discovery that I have eczema is to recommend a cure for me. I suppose most people mean well when they do this, but to be honest, I find it rather annoying. That’s probably because my parents actually took up some of these suggestions in the past and I had to experience all sorts of things in the name of getting me healed of eczema. I don’t recall any particular one working out in the long term.  

So, in many ways, perhaps it’s to save myself the disappointment that I never heed any of the advice that people give me about eczema. (See earlier paragraph. Perhaps I’ve grown too fond of scratching as a technique for coping with life).  

The other thing about having eczema is that you fall under the category of People Who Ought To Be Prayed For To Receive Supernatural Healing within the Christian community. Believe me, many have prayed. The eczema endured, just as surely as God is eternal.  

What conclusion does this leave me with? I cannot accept the notion that God is cruel enough to want to continue afflicting me with eczema because He doesn’t love me. But then comes the often proffered classic Christian perspective: “This is a test which God puts you through to refine your character and make beautiful things emerge from your life”. Oh and there’s also the “by the measure of your faith it will be given to you” angle whereby it’s supposedly my lack of faith which defines whether or not my eczema will vanish after a wholehearted prayer of a devout believer.  

No matter the reason, the fact remains that I. Still. Have. Eczema. Today.  

However, I should add that it has gotten much easier over the years. Partly it’s because I’m so used to having these skin woes. But it’s probably also due to the fact that there has been much less eczema patches appearing on my body as there used to be when I was a child.  

They say you can apparently “grow out of it”. And then when you don’t, they’ll say, “Oh, since you didn’t get rid of it before you reached adulthood, it’s now permanent”. Why not just tell me from the get-go that this is because my body functions in a certain way and that my best shot is to figure out a way to manage it that works well for me in the long run? 

Honestly, living with eczema isn’t too bad. As long as I don’t let flies lay eggs on my open wounds such that maggots start wiggling out of them (an unfortunately true story of a fellow hospital inmate that I was woefully made aware of while being admitted to the children’s ward), I suppose I will be alright.  

Sometimes I do face the setback of not being able to wear skirts or shorts whenever I want to because of weepy eczema patches on my legs, but it doesn’t happen too often (or I medicate quickly enough that the situation doesn’t persist for too long OR I completely ignore the issue and wear the desired item of clothing anyway).  

Although I do have some ideas about what triggers my eczema breakouts, most times I cannot say which of those causes is responsible for a particular episode. So, in many ways, que sera sera, and I continue to live life and not worry about abstaining from this or that unless something really huge occurs.  

And, as gross as it sounds that I like to scratch and peel of layers and layers of scabs, I’d like to make it known that I usually clean up my own mess afterwards. Especially on shared spaces around the home such as the bedroom mattress.  

There are far worse ongoing health issues to be stuck with, so I’m not complaining about my eczema. I just do what I can to live with it. Perhaps someday God will heal me of it. Or not. I just hope that I don’t pass it on genetically to any of my offspring so they can be spared of the agony.  

Christmas candour

Christmas tree setup at the entrance to the hall at church last Sunday.

Christmas is a strange sort of season in Malaysia. Here are some reasons why.

It is a big deal commercially, even though only a tiny fragment of the population actually embraces the Christian religion. Go to any shopping mall in the Klang Valley, and you will see Christmas themed decorations EVERYWHERE. Not to mention the music playing in the background, and the sales going on in just about every store. It’s pretty much regarded like every other major religious/cultural festival in our country (the list for that includes stuff like Chinese New Year, Deepavali and Hari Raya Aidilfitri). I guess you could say merchants are taking advantage of Christmas and using it as a means to clear stock at the end of the year. Well. Whatever it is, it must be working because this repeats every year.

We get a public holiday for Christmas. I’m not complaining, of course. I certainly benefited from having a break from work/school over the years at this time of the year because we would have usually been busy preparing for Christmas service at church during the period leading up to Christmas. This involves lots of rehearsals for performances that we would stage at service itself, as well as things like producing fliers to hand out the community, decorating the church grounds, etc. But, like I said, only so few of us actually celebrate Christmas, while the rest just enjoy an extra holiday (oh, but we all love our public holidays over here hehe as they are so many). 

It is one of the few times that songs containing Christian references are played and aren’t outright banned or censored in the public domain. Malaysia is a Muslim majority nation, but has a secular government. But in many ways, legal enforcement has religious undertones. And Christianity is frequently seen as being at odds with Islam (even though Malaysian Christians have not in any way declared war with our fellow Malaysians of a different religion). This is both unfortunate and unfair, but it is a prevailing circumstance in our nation. So, it is surprising to note that songs like Mary’s Boy Child can be heard as you go about town doing your year end shopping.

Christmas themed decor and songs that are used in Malaysia retain a very Western influence. Well, I suppose that is to be expected, since most of our media influences originate from the West. But it still amuses me how year after year, we hear White Christmas and Frosty the Snowman being aired publicly. And Christmas decor typically includes attempts to recreate a snowy landscape using things like cotton balls. Oh and trees. Everyone who celebrates Christmas here puts up an artificial tree at home to hang decorations on. Hehe. We have no snow here! There isn’t even a Winter season (except when it comes to what the fashion labels market to us). We have only sun, sun, sun and a little more rain in December. No such Christmas trees grow in our climate. It’s so bizarre.

To most Malaysians, Christmas is thought of as a season of goodwill, shopping and gift giving, and a time to drink and be merry. Correct me if I’m wrong, however. But yeah, that’s pretty much it. Somewhere in all of this, there is a spattering of Christmas carols about the baby Jesus in a manger, but that is about it. Santa, reindeer and presents are the reigning ideology about Christmas.

So that is Christmas in Malaysia. A funny sort of thing. I do wonder how foreign visitors to our country feel about the entire manner in which we celebrate it here.

It would not be right to end this post without me talking about what Christmas means to me though. So, here goes. I will try.

I was born into a Christian family and have been immersed in its religious practices for as long as I can remember. Somewhere along the line, as I was growing up, I was given the chance to decide whether I would adopt the Christian way of life as my own. I responded by asking Jesus into my heart and dedicating my life to Him.

Fast forward a few decades later, and here I am, a married woman, a mother of one. Still a church goer, Bible believer, Jesus worshipper. I do admit that my spiritual side could do with a bit more nourishing nowadays than what it used to, but yeah. This is still who I am.

Enter the event of Christmas. It has always felt like a faraway concept. A baby boy, born in a manger, more than 2,000 years ago, in a stable somewhere in the distant plains of Bethlehem. A region and a nation that I have no insight into. A culture we only read about and discuss in Bible studies. Add to the mix all the secular Christmas practices in Malaysia that I mentioned above.

It’s not only at Christmas time, but just about all the time that being a Malaysian Christian makes you stand out (sometimes unfavourably) from others in society. Our community is made up of so many races, and a diverse set of cultural and religious practices so much so that inevitably, you’ll have to explain your beliefs at some point.

With all of these elements coming into play, Christmas, for me, in my private little world, is a time for reflection. It is a season where I will pause to consider once more what it was all about when Jesus came to Earth in the form of a fragile little baby long time ago. How it was an event full of intent. God bent on saving humanity from the utter destruction of sin. How He wanted to reach out to me. This woman who was born in the 80’s, who carves out a life in the tropics, who cannot comprehend Judaism and who has never experienced a snowy Christmas.

Christmas is also a time when I normally find myself surrounded by family and friends. Mostly, this would be my church community, plus my immediate family. It is a moment where I cease the humdrum routine that fills most of my days, to come aside and connect with those I mentioned. And to buy them lots of gifts too.

To be honest, till this day, I still feel that I don’t fully grasp the gravity of Christmas. I do try to, but I feel that I hardly give it the justice it deserves in my life. I always end up feeling unworthy. Sometimes, I also feel an inability to connect with the nativity scene and the overall chain of events. I know it all by heart, but perhaps I still do not know enough.

All I do know is that when the first Christmas took place, it was the beginnings of grace. For me and the rest of the world. And for that I am deeply thankful.

To quote the words of a song I learned while I was a child:

Christmas isn’t Christmas till it happens in your heart
Somewhere deep inside you is where Christmas really starts
So give your heart to Jesus, you’ll discover when you do
That it’s Christmas
Really Christmas for you. 

Merry Christmas, everyone. May you know its true meaning this year.

Moving along

Hosting company for the old home of Stories and Such just issued an invoice to me. The renewal date for my subscription is coming up. And what that means is that a little sentimental piece of my life is about to vanish. 

On the first birthday I celebrated with Deric after our marriage, he bought me a domain for my birthday. That was the initial home for Stories and Such. 

Now, as we look to tighten our monthly family expenses, I made the decision to give up the subscription for that domain. After all, I reasoned that I hardly blog much and it doesn’t justify having to pay for the hosting service. 

Furthermore, as I had detailed in previous blog posts, the hosting company wasn’t very helpful when it came to assisting me in troubleshooting and resolving the issue I faced with a constantly exceeded bandwidth (which in my opinion was absurd considering how little I updated the blog and how minute the online traffic was for that site). 

I shall miss the domain, primarily because it was a gift, and it was one that I kept over the past 4 years or so. It certainly wasn’t as brilliant a blog as the one I maintained back in my uni days on Blogdrive. Neither was it as creative as what I had once deposited on another blog I used to write on at Blogspot. 

But this blog was special to me. It now continues here on a free WordPress subscription, probably a little less glorious than it was when it was a self hosted site. 

Well, anyway, online spaces are just tiny corners of the Web where we try to piece together an identity for ourselves. I tell myself it is real life that matters, and the Internet is only a small sliver of what my real life is. 

IRL, we are a family and we are happy and blessed by a gracious God who has seen us through thus far. I guess I have to trust that He will continue to hold us together and that despite my sentimentality over trivial things, there are bigger things that matter and it is those things that I choose to focus on. 

Into the unknown

Medication that I’m currently on to overcome possible infections that may be the cause of my thyroglossal cysts.

The year started on a semi sombre note for me. On New Year’s Eve, while washing my face in the morning, I discovered a somewhat painful lump in my neck. 
Being the often paranoid person that I am, I decided perhaps I should not jump to conclusions and check on it later. It could be that I was mistaken and merely imagining something there. 

But over the course of the last two weeks, I have seen my regular GP, the dentist and finally, an ENT specialist who confirmed for me the existence of a lump (in fact, two) in my neck. They are thyroglossal cysts. 

For now, the course of action to take is to go on a dose of antibiotics and to subsequently have another follow up visit. From then on, however, it’s anybody’s guess how things will go. 

My hope is that they will disappear of their own accord, as suddenly as they came, and leave me well alone. But there’s no telling at this point what they are and what long term impact they will have on my body. 

Of course, the doctor gives the general line of most cysts being 99.99% benign and a 0.001% of them being cancerous. There’s no way to find out though, unless fluid is extracted from the cysts for testing (mine are too small for that) or surgery is performed and the removed cysts sent to the lab for examination. 

I am not keen on surgery, especially with a little boy who is so attached to me at the moment. I cannot imagine Jamie being able to stand me being away from him even for just the surgical procedure, let alone be without me as I recuperate in the hospital. 

I also do not relish the thought of surgery being done on my neck, a very visible part of my face. The doctor already mentioned that it will certainly leave a scar. 

More than that, I don’t really look forward to the whole process of waiting for lab results and wondering what they might be in the meantime. 

Or having gotten the lab results, and maybe receiving unfavourable news. 

All these outcomes aren’t quite things I want to go through. 

So, here’s to hoping these mysterious fluid filled cysts go off on their own. I’m praying for it. Although I must say, I am not that faith filled when it comes to issues of healing. 

My eczema is my case in point. I’ve had it since I was a child. Many an optimistic Christian minister has come forth to pray for me, speaking authoritatively in the name of Jesus to command the skin problem to leave me. 

It could be my own doubt, or the shorcomings of those ministers themselves, but whatever it was, the outcome was always the same: My eczema did not leave me. 

Of course, now as an adult, I manage it a lot better and it doesn’t quite bother me in my day-to-day living as much as it did during my growing years. 

But what I’m saying here is that there are situations where God won’t heal you. And those times are hard to understand. Thankfully eczema isn’t anything debilitating, but things like cysts, who knows?

It is not for me to know yet, at this point, what the rest of 2016 holds for me. I anticipated that it would be a busy year, a challenging one, with Jamie turning one and taking on the years of toddlerhood. But I have not factored in what might be going on in my own personal life; be it my spiritual walk, my thoughts/emotions, relationship with Deric, life at church, commitments to extended family, and lots more. 

It feels a tad bleak at the moment though. For some reason, I tend to expect when things go smooth for a season that some kind of road bump must be up ahead. Perhaps this is it. Or maybe not. 

Who knows? 

I wonder why my Christian journey has always been tinged with a dash of melancholy. I wish it were joy filled, chirpy and full of miracles. But either that just isn’t God’s will for me, or my personality does not allow me to view life through that kind of lens. 

It’s just queer. This abundant life thing I’m supposed to have. Not saying my lot in life is all that bad. But there are days I do wonder: Is THIS it?