Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Testimony of a Life-Changing Event

It's been a bit of a busy time lately, preparing for exams and whatnot. I've really been wanting to update my blog for a while now, but I haven't really had the time. However, by God's providence, I had to look for my testimony of Jeremiah School. Jeremiah School is where I went for six weeks after my SPM, and I changed a lot there, and the following is (more-or-less) the testimony that I read to the Butterworth church on the last day of my six weeks there. Incidentally, this is the event which provides my current profile pic, with the nice shirt, the tie, and the microphone. It just so happened that I had to transfer my written testimony into a digital form anyway, for my mentors' report, so I thought it wouldn't harm to share it.


In a story, character transformation is the point where the main character changes for the better in his journey through life. Even in real life, we strive to change our lives for the better all the time. As Christians, we strive to live our lives as Jesus did.

Jeremiah School brought about my character transformation. It changed my life for the better. Today I can say for sure that I will never regret coming here.

Before I came to JS, I had been a broken and prideful person, but I never realised it. The two may seem incompatible, but they somehow had an abominable offspring in me. A year ago, I would never have used either of those words to describe myself. I was blind to my own brokenness, and I pridefully labelled myself as "humble" in my heart. I was blind to my own brokenness and pride. In my early secondary school years, I met people who hurt me and discouraged me regularly. They managed to convince me that I was quite incapable of doing anything well. By degrees my self-esteem rotted away without me realising it. I started isolating myself from others and became a very withdrawn person. I think this is when I started playing video games more; maybe because video games was one of the few things I knew I was good at. Lame. Eventually, without realising it, I tried to replace and hide my broken self-esteem with pride. I found fulfilment when other people saw me doing things well. This became a large snare for me in many things, especially when I played piano for worship in church.

Then when I was in my SPM year, my parents suggested that I go for JS. At that time, I was completely unaware of my fragmented emotional condition. But my sister had gone for JS before, and my parents thought it would be good for me to go too. I thought to myself, "I wouldn’t have anything better to do after SPM." So I agreed to go to HS. I did not know that the journey I had just begun would change my life.

I remember two meaningful events that happened early in JS, and these events laid the foundation for the rest of my growth in Jeremiah School. One morning, Uncle Alan, a speaker, came to teach us about meditating on Scripture. He taught us to ruminate over Bible verses and take their meaning personally. He then asked us to meditate on Isaiah 43:18-25. I will remember that passage all the days of my life. The passage spoke to me of God’s love, blessing and forgiveness. It was as if God had written those words just for me. This became the beginning of a new and intimate relationship between me and God.

Another turning point in my life began a few days later, when I was planning my Personal Development Plan with my mentor, Austin. Austin guided me in identifying what I wanted to improve in myself, what was hindering me from improving, and steps to become better at it. I knew what I wanted to become better at: I wanted to be more open towards the others in JS, because I had a lot of trouble with talking to other people back then. Through talking with Austin, I found out that my main obstacle was my fear of rejection and my fear of other people’s opinion. He asked me why I had this fear. Somehow I knew that this was related to my school years, even though I had never had a thought about it in the past. Suddenly the words and the pain just started flowing out of my mouth. I expressed what I had gone through and how I really felt and how my emotions were really affected by it. All the emotions I had hidden away all this time were brought into light. I’m sure I cried there in front of Austin. Fortunately no one else saw me. I remember what Austin told me: "You're still young, and you have a long life ahead of you. I believe that you have enough good sense not to make any mistakes that will affect the rest of your life." So why worry about what other people thought about me every waking moment of my life? Just try your best, and when you make social mistakes, don't beat yourself up over it, but learn from it and don't do it again. No harm done. I also learned to see more worth in myself, because God created me, and has a purpose for me and can use me for good. On that day I started a relationship and understanding with my emotional self.

Ever since God began a change in me through these two events, the rest of JS has been a wonderful experience of learning and growing together with the other students, with whom I have formed relationships and bonds that I greatly value. The other 23 students of JS formed a loving and caring community, and invited me to be a part of it. They encouraged me to open up to them, and they helped me with my brokenness. I also learned a lot from the mentors, who were always willing to talk with me, and they patiently answered any questions I had to ask. They also taught me to use the head God has given me to think over and solve my problems.

Sometimes people always say I'm so friendly and nice and etc. etc., but I wasn't always that way, and I'm sure that if it wasn't for the people I met at Jeremiah School, I'd still be an introvert, socially inept and fearful of other people. But God saw it fit to send me to Jeremiah School to meet all these amazing people, and patch me back together from all the broken pieces. Those whole six weeks played a big part in forming the person I am today, and defined my beliefs and values in life. These days I feel that it's the least I can do to keep an eye out for others in need of a friend, in need of someone to reach out to them, to get them to open up. I realise that not everyone gets the chance to meet people like the ones I met at JS, so I try to be that one friend to as many people as I can. For now, I believe that's the person God wants me to be. And if that's who God wants me to be, then of course that's the person I'm going to try my best to be. Regardless of what other people think of me.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

You are worth more...

"Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."
- Luke 12:6-7 (NIV).

Among Christians, the Holy Bible is also known as "God's word." We believe that the Bible has many authors but all of them were ultimately led by God to write those words down, and so the Bible is written, or inspired, by God, through men. When Christians read the Bible, they see it as God speaking to them through the Bible; the book is, after all, God's divine word. But I don't think God's word was reserved exclusively for Christians. God has something to say to everyone, especially non-Christians. I'm not especially trying to convert anyone to Christianity in an instant through this one verse - although I do pray that anyone who reads this will be turned closer towards God - and who knows, maybe God has something to say to you.

During His ministry, Jesus often spoke to large crowds at a time, teaching and encouraging them. On one such occasion, Jesus told them the above two quoted verses. The idea here is that God created the Earth and everything on it, the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and all the creatures that move along the ground. And then He made "man". In His own image, He created them, male and female, to be special, to be put in charge of all the other creatures of the Earth (Genesis 1). But God didn't just poof up a planet and make us and then leave us alone to have at it. No, He watches over all His creation, all the time, lovingly and caringly. Sparrows are small and unimpressive birds, and yet we are told that God knows every one of them. How assuring it is to know that if God cares for even a sparrow, how much more so would He care for us! He knows the number of hairs on our head, the depths of our hearts, and His own plan for our life.

There may be some doubt or some insecurity as to whether God really watches over everyone. Is God's presence reserved only for really good Christians? What if I'm a non-believer, or if I haven't been a very good Christian lately? Well, think about this: Do sparrows read the Bible everyday? Do say their prayers every night and go to church on Sundays? Sarcasm aside, as surely as God created the sparrows and watches over them, so too will He watch over the people He created; of whom you are far from the least.

For you are worth more; more than many sparrows. Or as the Message version says it, you're worth more than a million canaries. Whenever everyone and everything around you just makes you feel hopeless and worthless, look up at the sky and see the sparrows, or indeed, any kind of bird that happens to be flying around there. Then remember how much you are worth to God, who created all the heavens and the earth, and yet watches over you.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The responsibility of a child

As an 18-year-old college student who used to be an introvert until recently, I would be the first to admit that I'm no expert when it comes to the subject of relationships. But I'm starting to learn, and here's what I have learnt: the more you put into a relationship, the more you get out of it. It's a phrase that gets used often when discussing the subject of relationships, and I have discovered it to be true. Now, I'm still single, alright, so I'm not talking about romantic relationships here. But quite often, when we think that a relationship with a friend or a relative is at the bottom of a down curve, all it takes is a little effort on our part to get things going again.

Sure, a relationship is a double-sided thing, both sides of the relationship need to participate to make it work. But when you know that a relationship is slacking, whose going to be the first to pick up their end of the stick? It's easy to be selfish and to think, "They're friends with me, they should make more effort to spend time with me, listen to my problems, look out for my needs!" But don't you think that the other person might be thinking the exact same thing? Do they have any greater obligation than you to be a good friend to the other party? Otherwise, both sides of the relationship are just going to stop trying and things will never improve from there. A relationship that could have potentially been one full of trust and meaning would be lost forever, just like that. When it happens between friends, it's sad. When it happens between relatives, its tragic and could be devastating. Sometimes, all it takes is a little initiative from yourself, to make the other person feel like you care about them. It'll make you feel better, and they'll usually feel obliged to reciprocate. Things can only go uphill from there.

Some people are surrounded by a loving family and caring friends. Some may have only one but not the other, but for what they do have, it is crucial not to let it go to waste. Others may be surrounded by, as far as they're convinced, friends and family who as loving or caring as they wish they would be(and this may not necessarily be true). I am ashamed to admit that I fall into the third category. Having spent most of my life growing up with two sisters (and a third one these past few years), and me being the only guy, I haven't always been able to get along with them all that well. One of the things I used to whine to myself about back in those days was that "the other guys at school get to have brothers!" (Some people say the squeaky wheel gets the oil, but it seldom works when all the squeaking is done towards oneself. Not that asking my parents for a brother would have worked anyway. I was a right terror back in those days.) It took me a long time to realise that rather than constantly being at war with my sisters simply because they weren't my brothers wasn't going to make my life better. Instead, I decided I should try to get along with my sisters, because that might actually make my life easier.

So I started trying to live out my responsibilities as a member of the family. A lot of us learn all about this in school, in Moral class and "Sivik" class ("Civics" in Malay), but most of us dismiss it as a subject that you don't even need to pass to succeed in life. But these lessons are all useful, and I wish I'd picked up on them sooner. I started trying to be a good younger brother to my elder sister, a good big brother to my younger sisters, and a good son to my parents. I have heard that children play a crucial role in maintaining the happiness of the entire family. This would mean that any child in any family has a huge responsibility, whether or not they realise it. I have no evidence to show whether or not this is true, but it makes sense to me, and there is one thing I can say for sure: Whether or not it affected the rest of my family, I know that those times when I tried to be a better child of the family, I certainly felt a lot happier in their company.

In my opinion, it's reasonable to think that in a happy family, everyone is carrying out their responsibilities as a member. An orchestra sounds best when all play in tune, and a cart moves fastest when all horses pull in the same direction. For me, this meant I had to figure out what my proper responsibilities were as the only son. If memory serves, the whole process took months, and I think I've recorded some of it in my journal somewhere. But in the end, I figured I need to help my elder sister our in her duties as the Youth president at church, be a loving brother figure to both my younger sisters, especially the youngest one, and help my mom out around the house, by taking care of the youngest sister from time to time, for example. I don't know what the responsibilities of the other members of the family are. What I do know is, I know what my responsibilities to my family are, and I'm going to carry them out. I know my responsibilities as a child, and if I were to dismiss them, I would hardly have the (sense of) responsibility of a child.

Sometimes it's not that easy, though, to figure out one's responsibility towards a member of the family. For example, what am I supposed to do for my father? He's a great guy, working hard and enjoying his job as a doctor to raise our family, and he sent me to college to get an education and everything. What is there left that I can do for him? I've had a hard time figuring it out, and I still haven't figured it out yet. I actually asked him what he expects me to do for him, and all he said was "Study hard in college, don't get into trouble, be a good Christian." For some of us, that's all we need to do. Well, bar the Christian part for non-Christians. But one of the most basic responsibilities of a child is to do well in their studies so that they can secure a sustainable job and take care of their parents in later life. Fellow students, if you remember nothing from this blog post, remember at least this: You have to study hard and get a good job, and once you do, remember your parents. If you feel unmotivated or can't find a reason to study, think of your parents.
It's times like this that I realise how very, very young and inexperienced I am. I only know how it feels to be a son in a family, so I have limited advice and perspective when it comes to the roles of other family members. But one thing that I feel very strongly is that every family member's actions has a big impact on the whole family. The children are no exception. It is probably true to say that parents have the most influence in the family... but the children count too. If you're wondering what you, as a child, can do to make your family happier, start by changing the person you are most able to influence: yourself. Play your role in your family. The family will be happier, you will be happier, your life will be better. You should uphold your responsibility regardless of whether or not the other family members hold up theirs. Give it a try. Take the initiative and take up the responsibility of a child. It may have an indefinite effect on the happiness of your family.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blog reboot

So a lot has happened in this last month. About two months and one week ago, I wrote what I thought would be the last post in my blog ever. But then, last month I gained some insight on a subject which I thought was worth writing about. So after about two weeks of drafting, editing, and actually putting in some effort into what I was writing for my blog, my previous blog post was published on Thursday night. And you know what? This one was different. I actually felt excited when writing it, and when I finished, I actually really hoped that people would read it and benefit from it. Practically a first in all my days of blogging. It was then that I decided, you know what, maybe all hope is not lost and maybe there is still something in this whole blogging thing after all. Do try to read my previous blog post though, I'm very pleased about it.

At college yesterday I had the opportunity to chill with some of my classmates, who are all really nice people. We were all having fun chatting and studying for our exams and all, and I so happened to find out that one of my classmates, Giap Min (a.k.a. Sushi), had a blog as well. I know she's reading this right now, so: Hi Sushi, I read your blog. It's nice. Keep it up!
Also, a quick Google search revealed that another classmate of mine also has a blog. <At first I put his first name in this post, but not his full name. However, I think his blog was meant to be a secret, and some people might have been able to find it from here. If you're reading this, sorry man, this is the reason your blog might be less of a secret from a few people now!> . Yup, I found his blog on Google without his knowledge. Turns out I might have the ability to be a decent stalker, but I won't. I must use my powers for good, not evil.

Anyway, both of their blogs had one thing in common. Both of them used to have old blogs, but they made their current blog this year, starting afresh from post #1, as a symbol of starting a new life in college, so to speak. This intrigued me, and I wondered if I should make a new blog too. Not simply because of peer pressure or anything like that, but because I felt that I was about to start something new with my blog too, so why not make a brand new blog instead? After some thinking, I decided to stick to my old blog and just redecorate the whole thing to signify starting afresh. That way, my readers will easily be able to compare the old me and the new me by looking at older posts, and while my old self is not a person I am proud to be acquainted with, nevertheless, I have learned a lot from my past and others might too, so I shall be proud in my shame and not try to erase it from history. Also, it's less work compared to starting a new blog from scratch.

So what's new? I fleshed out a lot of the messy cluttering gadgets on the right sidebar. I loaded up a new background which in my opinion is a dozen times better than the old one, which was a wheat field with a moose standing in it. I replaced the old blog header picture with a new one of a leaf touching the surface of the water and creating a ripple. This is actually meant to be symbolic of what I hope to achieve with my blog. As stated in the blog description, one person's actions can lead to huge effects, oftentimes outside of their field of vision and without them realising it. This is known as the "ripple effect", and it's what I hope to achieve with my blog. Maybe my posts will have an effect on the people who read it, without my realising it. If I can make the world a better place, even slightly, by blogging, then who am I to say that I don't want to blog anymore? This is a huge contrast to my old vision of blogging two years ago, where I wrote whatever came to mind just for fun, and I put a moose as the blog header because I though the moose was a funny animal.

As part of the blog reboot, I was also considering changing the name of the blog to "The Ripple Effect", because that would fit in with the blog header picture and my blog's new goal, on top of just being pretty cool. But obviously, such a deep and meaningful phrase like "The Ripple Effect" would surely not have escaped the attention of a dozen other bloggers who also needed a nice blog title. Sure enough, a Google search revealed three other blogs titled "Ripple Effect" or something similar. One of them was about music, another was about education, and I have no idea what the last one was about. Oh well, so that name's already been taken. Such a shame, for it would have made the perfect title for my blog. Maybe if I had gotten my foot into the game half a dozen years ago, when blogging was starting to catch on, then I'd be able to have the blog title of my dreams. Oh well. As it is, my blog title currently remains unchanged, as does its web address. Which is just as well, because who knows when something or anything whatever else might happen, and I might feel like blogging about it, and the blog title still fits. "Everything" is a really big word.

Anyway, that's all for now, I guess. I'll try to blog more often and more meaningfully from now on. I'm a little excited about what I might be going to do with my blog from now on. Perhaps you are too. Well, maybe. I don't know how many people are still reading my blog. But even if only a handful of people ever read my blog, and only a fraction of those even gain anything from it, then so be it. If my blog has even a little potential to do something good, no matter how small the potential, then I'd be irresponsible not to maintain it. Therefore, maintain it I shall, and who knows what the future holds, other than God? I'm just gonna sign of here, and pray for the best. Whoever you are reading this, I hope to see you at my blog again soon, and thanks for reading. Smiley!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Giving up comfort

Different people sometimes have very different views and opinions about life. What life is about, what life is for, what you should do with your life. I was talking about this with a friend of mine while walking to dinner recently. His view of life is one that is held and even embraced by what I would consider to be a large majority of humans around the world, and yet his views were so different from mine. Even so, and quite unexpectedly, by having that conversation, I was able to learn a lot about myself and how I view life as a Christian. Never again will I belittle the significance of the act of initiating small talk on the way to dinner.

The conversation started normally enough, for a ragtag bunch of college students walking to dinner. We were talking about college life and what we were going to study that night and whatnot, and someone mentioned that college life was dull, with no excitement, and that college was just about studying all the time. The others seemed to agree, but I was astounded. INTI College, as a whole, seemed like quite a cheerful college to study in, to me. You know, friendly lecturers, cool classmates, interesting syllabi, and a couple of ping pong tables too. How could they possibly find college life dull? I asked one of them what he thought was an exciting life. He answered, half in jest, that an exciting life was about playing video games and killing virtual terrorists. Everyone laughed, because he was joking, after all. I used to be a video game junkie myself, so I understand where this is coming from. But jokes are often used as a cover for when you don't know what to really answer. So I pursued this train of thought.

I asked my friend a question: Which would you choose, a life of comfort where you don't have to work and everything just comes to you, or a life where you have to work? He answered that he would choose the life of comfort. For some reason, I just couldn't accept that. I have since realised, of course, that part of human nature just wants its comfort and doesn't want to get out there into the dangerous working world. But it didn't seem right to me. I didn't say anymore on the subject, but I had been given enough to think about that I was quite silent for the rest of the walk.

We didn't actually argue over any of this, but it gave me a lot to think about, and I argued it out within the confines of my own head for quite a while. Eventually I realised that I had been quite unfair in judging my friend in that way. There wasn't any actual conflict between us, but in my head there was, and I wanted to resolve it. I managed to do so by explaining to him the next day (also on the way to dinner) that because of my Christian lifestyle, I have a different worldview, and willingly give up my comfort for the sake of glorifying God.

Some of you may be Christians reading this, and you may disagree that being a Christian entails discomfort. Maybe you've learned the Prosperity Gospel. Maybe you're a young or new Christian, and have never thought about going out of the way of your comfort zone for Jesus. Now, I'm only 18, and far be it from me to try to act all holier-than-thou and give myself cred and fab by pulling out Bible verses. But I do have a few verses that at the very least support the idea that we are to risk our comfort for Jesus. For instance,
Luke 9:23: Then [Jesus] said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me." (NIV)
Based on my understanding, taking up one's cross gives the idea of going through difficulty, and willingly. For Jesus, taking up His cross meant dying by crucifixion on the cross He carried Himself, and so He died for our sins that we might live. Willingly.

Another possible Bible passage for this argument, possibly less in magnitude but still applicable, is Luke 18:18-23. The rich young ruler and Jesus. A young and rich Jewish leader asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. He had kept all the commandments in the Pentateuch since he was small. Jesus said to him, "You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Jesus was asking a lot from this young man. He couldn't do it. He went away sad, for he was very rich. It wasn't enough for Jesus that the young ruler was a law-abiding Jew who kept all the commandments. Jesus wanted him to go out of his way and love those who were less fortunate than him; and in so doing, ultimately give up his riches, his security, his comfort.

Now, I'm not saying that all discomfort is right. Discomfort caused by unjust political oppression is not to be taken lightly. Nor are we to deprive ourselves for the empty purpose of lessening some emotional pain, in place of actually trying to resolve it. In the two passages I mentioned above, Jesus is talking about a very special act of giving up one's comfort. It is an act where we give up our personal comfort for the benefit of people other than ourselves, no matter how much it may inconvenience us. There is a very special word for giving up comfort in this way. It's called "sacrifice".

Now that the magic word has been introduced, hopefully the idea of giving up comfort no longer seems so unattractive to some of you. "Sacrifice". It's a word that we've heard many times, especially in context of what our parents have done for us, what friends are to do for us, and ultimately what Jesus has done for all of humankind. For each of us, our parents, whether biological or not, have sacrificed a lot of time, energy and comfort in working to sustain the family, giving us an education and bringing us up lovingly. Friends, especially those who are sincere and true, give up a lot for each other all the time, going the extra mile for one another.

On a much larger scope, Jesus allowed Himself to be led up the hill where he was murdered on the cross, so that the sins of all people on earth might be forgiven. We call that the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus sacrificed his own life, so that we may have eternal life in heaven. This principle of sacrifice is not an easy one to live out, but it's one that I try hard to do everyday. I try my hardest to help out my friends, and not just when it's convenient for me, but even when it requires some sacrifice. I am still not able to sacrifice my comfort for my friends all the time, and sometimes I'm selfish. But I will try, all the time, not to make myself the most important person in my life. Everyone else becomes more important than myself. Life feels better that way. How I feel is, when you live to please yourself, you're working for someone who will never be satisfied. But when you live to help those whom you love, you're working for those who love you back, appreciate you, and give you significance.

I may be a bit "off-the-mark" on this next point. But I hope to some day be and have a family. I guess I make sacrifices for my future family, too. I study hard so that I will someday be able to be a good doctor, and sustain a family as well as help out patients who come to me when they're sick. This means that here in college, I don't fool around unnecessarily, and I have to give up video games and sometimes even sleep (although I don't advise losing sleep). I have a goal to reach, and I will sacrifice comfort today in order to reach it in the future. At the end of the day, I want to glorify God in my life, and I can do so through my job and my family. But I won't be able to get there without some sacrifice.

At the end of the day, humans are selfish and desire comfort for themselves. I am no exception, and no one is an exception, really. Because I'm human, all I can do is try always to be less selfish and more outward-looking, but if I'm not careful, that selfish little imp inside me will jump back out again and start trampling all over my life. Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant church, once said that sin is the self bending in on the self. It's a vicious cycle, fuelling a painful flame that is always hungry. But when we become less important in our eyes, and everyone else becomes more important, the cycle breaks. I truly think that life is better like that. Perhaps you disbelieve me? Why not give it a try, for a day, a week, or a month? You may be surprised by what you experience, putting others above yourself, and giving up comfort for their benefit.