Walk with Me – Vocation Revisited

Towards the end of last year, I wrote on the topic of vocation, wrestling and asking the question on how I am to be part of the Body to bring Him Glory. Remembering the recurring verses and prompting to just “walk with the Lord and watch how He does it”, I think I have a better idea of what it may mean 6 months later (albeit still struggling to walk it).

So I also mentioned in my previous posts that my Lupus is on a flare. It has been for a while now and I have started more aggressive treatments since. To cut the long story short, the disease is yet to be brought under control as my body is not responding to the multiple revisions of drug treatments over the months. The process have been devastating and my body feels every bit of it – exhaustion. So what has it got to do with my vocation?

It was during one of our weekly life group meeting sometime in January where I gave an update on the status of my flare. Upon hearing how my condition has not improved, a dear brother proposed that as a life group, we will fast lunch for a week and pray for me. The whole group supported the idea immediately. To be honest, I was caught off guard and did not know how to respond. I was extremely touched by the group’s love but part of me feels unworthy and unsettled, fearing that the group may be discouraged if nothing spectacular happens at the end of the week. As I think further to my emotions then, I realise that the feeling of fear crept in because the outcome is something I have no control in – I can’t achieve better outcome just by having more knowledge or try harder. In other words, there is nothing I can do and it is totally not me. This makes me realise how much of my confidence stems from my knowledge and ability to do things.

So my life group fasted lunch for me. For a week, each of us forwent our normal social lunch outing, fasted and prayed for me. We exchanged our insights and reflections after we prayed, amidst our hunger and struggles to abstain from food (haha!) – suffering is lighter when shared with fellow starving brothers and sisters :D. It was quite an experience for me. I got to read and hear their heart, and witness their faith, love and hope growing for me. I was touched. While I agreed with all their prayers for me, I was worried for the same reason shared earlier. I remember very distinctly that on one of the lunchtime prayer session, I prayed to God that no matter what the outcome of the week-long prayer and fasting on my condition is, may it bring Him glory. I may not know how it would work, but that God will meet each of my brothers and sisters and do His wonderful work in their respective spiritual journey. That was all I could pray because there is really nothing else I can do – desperate cry!

Two verses which I clung on tightly since more than a decade ago came back to mind as I prayed in desperation.

“1 Timothy 4:4-5 – For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”

More than a decade ago when battling another Lupus flare, I came across the two verses above which led me to claim to God that I am good. My circumstances and all the bad that I was going through, because they have been laid at the altar through prayers of my community, my life have been sanctified by the word of God spoken in faith and is Good. I dare called myself Good for God’s purposes.

These 2 verses came back to me as I was praying that afternoon and I cried out to God to “#MakeMeGoodAgain” (pun intended), regardless of whether I am healed.

At the end of the week, we had a life group celebratory cum break-fast dinner. As I hear the accounts of my fellow brothers and sisters on their respective encounter, wrestles and communion with God in the week of praying and fasting for me, I was very humbled and at the same time encouraged. I caught a glimpse of the Good that could come out from my life. God had worked in His marvelous ways and His name was glorified through my life story. And the best thing is… that I did not even have to do anything. All that I am to do is to live my life as I am called to be – to walk with God and watch how He does it…. and in that, learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

Isaiah 55:8-9 –
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30

 

no hero

The end of year is often a time when I pause a bit to stock-take on how the year has been and what are some learning points to mark. What came clearly through the painful process was the recognition (and acceptance) that I HAVE VERY LIMITED RESOURCES – by that I mean energy and time.

While whining over how disconnected I am from the lives of the people whom I used to be close with, I was equally discouraged at how they are also disconnected from mine. What makes it more frustrating is the fact that while the spirit or mind is willing, the state of my physical self makes all these interactions almost impossible. It may be helpful to give some context to the idea behind The Spoon Theory before I write further. The Spoon Theory is a concept written by a fellow Lupus sufferer, Christine Miserandino, where spoons are used to represent energy. A person with chronic condition would have a finite amount of spoons per day and each activity, including brushing your teeth and changing your clothes, remove some spoons until eventually there is none left. The point of it is that people with chronic condition do not have endless reserves of energy or spoons as oppose to their otherwise healthy counterpart.

For me, I find myself waking up to different number of spoons every morning. There are days I woke up feeling okay and there are days I woke up feeling even more exhausted than when I went to bed. Increasingly, I find myself waking up with lesser and lesser spoons, with someday, spoon deficit. My daily routine is simple. I struggle to wake up in the morning to get ready for work. The journey from home to work (20 mins, with approximately a 10mins walk) is considered a challenging task that will zap up a significant amount of energy from me. Often by the end of a work day, my remaining energy will be just enough for me to take a slow walk home (25mins), wash up, have dinner and rest. That is my optimized daily routine for a normal day. Anything out of this routine will require some adjustments or I will just have to suffer the consequences, which at times I make provisions for because I am human being and human being are supposed to have other people in their lives!

In the midst of feeling sorry for myself that I am all alone, isolated from the world that I used to be in, and having no energy to care about everyone and all their concerns, I do still interact with people and form meaningful relationships – either by convenience (eg. work, proximity) or by love (people who make effort to stay connected and in the know). Out of all the frustrations and disappointment, I remember going through this phase where I go through the process of “evaluate, promote, demote and eliminate” for all my friendships. I do admit that was done with a bit of self-pity and maybe bitterness. Through the process, I recognize that I have very limited energy and I can’t be holding on to the past and wished for things to stay the same (people do move on). I need to focus my limited energy to recognize and give weight to the few relationships that matters and understand where I am at this point in my life. While filled with the frustration and disappointment at how many of my relationships turned out (or not turned out), I was conscious that I should not approach this with a negative and bitter mindset. I do not want to have the defensive loser mentality where “I cut you out of my life because……” I did not want the new direction to be driven by something of the negative – reaction from hurt and self-seeking.

I briefly shared what I was going through and how I was feeling with a dear friend whom I have had the privilege of staying connected over the years. Hearing my heart, he dropped me a text early one day that reads “I feel there is a need to be more present to those who need you, and cut out all other distractions.” That just resonated so deeply with my heart! I shouted a resounding “Yes” upon reading it and my spirit was instantly lifted and realigned. Instead of focusing my mind on the relationships that is slowly fading away because of reasons we can’t avoid and causing me distress, I should be focusing my (limited) time and energy on those who are around me, those who are present to me, need me, and those who had allowed me to ‘need’ them. Once I opened my eyes, I see where I am. I see many people that have been place around me. There are needs around me and there are important roles that I play (even within my less-than-productive daily routine) – I need to be present (all the more with the little that I have to offer). I think this is Grace.

A while back, I was reminded to show love and kindness where possible and I guess that is also coming back to my mind. Instead of focusing on what I have to give up, I am to focus and be present at where my current place is. I need to SEE the people and events around me to recognize beauty – one of which its story I can be a part to tell.

navigating through life

To those who travels, we are very used to navigating ourselves through a map, thanks to the advancement of technology and Google Map! We power up the app, turn on our GPS location setting, and slowly navigate through to reach our destination. The journey may be long and arduous but we often have milestones along the way to assure us that we are heading the right direction.

Someone had drew that map for you and told you that this is the road map that you should follow to reach your destination. You took it in without any doubts as everyone else is using the same map as reference. You study the map conscientiously and grew familiar with each of the milestone in that map. You work hard and try to hit all of them, thinking that the more you hit, the closer you are to your destination. Now imagine with me…. On the road map you had always thought yourself to be on, you could not locate yourself – you are not on the map!

 k23966158

The picture above is an example of what I get when I searched for ‘human life-stage’ on Google. It represents the model of a ‘successful life’ as defined by our society. You grow up, study hard, graduate with a degree, get a well paying job, buy a car, get married, buy a house and start a family of your own, retire, grow old, deteriorate in health and eventually die peacefully. Many of us are born into this road map. We were told and presented with this road map growing up and often benchmark ourselves using these key milestones or events in life.

More and more increasingly in the last few years, I find myself lost in this road map. While trying very hard to live each day, I wasn’t sure where life was heading for me with reference to the path laid out by this ‘successful life’ road map. Unlike most of my friends, I did not progressed onto some of the milestones or events as depicted in the ‘successful life’ model.  My life took a different turn and my life path is just different from most of the people around me. I could not locate myself on this road map. It is a feeling of lagging behind mixed with the feeling of misfit and you feel yourself floating around unsure of what is left to this ‘unconventional’ life. According to the road map above, at my current age, I should have been married with maybe a few children, own a vehicle and a house big enough for a family of 5. I should be enjoying motherhood and building a family, and to make it more Christian, building Godly family and actively serving and rising through the ranks of leadership within the local church. None of that is happening for me. Here I find myself alone at a complete different path, unmarried, not serving in the local church and struggling daily living with a chronic condition. Where do I place myself on the road map? There is no place for me there.

One day, I suddenly thought to myself. “This is ridiculous. No way have I not grown in this lifetime.” If you are talking about changes and life experiences, I think I have accumulated enough to make this life rich. However, if I benchmark myself against the ‘successful life’ road map, I am a misfit. This cannot be! The moment of epiphany came when I realized that I have been bench-marking my life on a wrong road map. This road map that everyone is using is not what I am suppose to reference as a successful life. It explains why I can’t place myself anywhere there. I have to find the real road map in which I am suppose to use. But first, I need to do some homework. I need to remember where I’d come from, where I am now and where I am supposed to head from here. I do not yet have the answer or even a glimpses of how the real road map is supposed to look like, but what is clear to me is that the ‘successful life’ road map that the society celebrates is not the road map of Life. On the contrary, the celebrated milestones on the road map distracts us from finding the real road map of Life. I am made for something more.

May I find clarity…

 

 

Out of the cave

Having spent 2015 attempting to clarify the question of my vocation and calling, I entered 2016 with a desire to Participate. Participation in the works of my local community and to be part of something greater than myself, whatever the form and shape of that “community”. Having not actively participated in any fixed community for the last few years put me in a very good position to reset the area and form of my participation. On the flip side though, I was left completely clueless and do not have a launching platform – I was at point zero. What was clear to me though, was that I do not want to be doing the same thing I was in my previous participation. As a close friend rightly pointed out to me, the me 10 years ago is a very different me in the present. So there I was, in a place of endless possibility yet lost without a trajectory. What did I do? As usual, I did something that was easy and does not require me to break a leg – I placed that desire on the altar as an offering to God. This may sound “oh-so-holy”, but more often than not, it has been used as a cop-out. Pray and let God sort it out for me, end of story, case close 🙂 (oh wait… NOT quite!)

A great part of my life is bound by the limitations and constrains as one living with chronic disease. As one who grew up and mature into adulthood with such baggage in my life, I have learnt early in life to embrace imperfections and accept that life is unfair. Having struggled with my illness for 21 years, and wrestling with God on a day-to-day basis, I have come to recognize that life itself is a gift from God. After all, I am alive with a physical body created in His image. The only way I can fulfil God’s purposes in my life as a human is to be alive in a physical form, at least one that is functioning. With that, I am responsible to nurture and take care of that body! As much as I appreciate the notion of positive Christian thinking and the often well-meant yet misquoted “I can do all thing through Christ who strengthens me”, the pragmatic me do recognize that pain is equally a gift to us. Pain as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is a highly unpleasant physical sensation caused by illness or injury. Pain is a built-in mechanism to protect. It is a signal to stop us from causing more injury or harm to ourselves and a signal to tell us something is not right; it is a signal to stop and relook at ourselves. We cannot ignore pain. There is a time for everything and most of all, we are called to align ourselves with God. More on pain another time.

So since about 2 years ago, the imagery and the message of my restoration and God returning to me ALL (including years!!) that I have lost in double portion had been repeatedly spoken over me. Big part of me is excited and even fantasize about the idea of being a teenager again! (God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine right? HAHAHA). It has been 2 years since the word was first spoken but I do not see any fruit of its kind and am diagnostically nowhere near. On the contrary, just about 3 months ago, my body started to fall apart in a more serious manner. Daily routine of getting up and going to work requires a great deal of struggling. I am constantly fatigued and in pain, and every movement hurts. It was devastating to the core and my spirit was crushed. I had no answer. I cried out to God and asked Him “Why? If the same word has been spoken over me repeatedly for 2 years, why hasn’t it come to pass? Am I not doing enough?” I remember humbling myself and asked God another question “Does the problem lie within me?”

Despite being chronically ill, I am also one who had been blessed with a rather sharp intellect. With that lies also a smart alec that could surface anytime without warning. In the last 2 years or so, upon receiving the words of prophecy and thanks to my scientific training, vast network and my privileged access to medical advancement, I had started to do many things – fitness regime, rehabilitation programs, dietary supplements, latest medical literature, change in diet and even explored alternative therapies. I was preoccupied with all these things while burning a big hole in my pocket. I had taken things in my own hands. I had taken the word and try to engineer it according to my knowledge.  It is so true that your gifting can be a gift or a curse. I was rebuked! BIG TIME.

“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galation 6:8 (NASB)

God is sovereign, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. He loves and did not give up on me. He rebuked me and in His continual process of teaching me how to be fully human, he taught me a few lessons, and some lessons they were.

When God gives you a word, while you do not sit there and do nothing, do not be in a hurry to ‘take it and run’. God is in no hurry to get the “word” done and God does not need your help. He is more interested in how we respond to Him, the process of relationship and character building leading to the fruition of His word. The process is often more rewarding that the fruit itself. Spend time to hear God’s voice. Clarify and understand God’s heart before and during any action. Our interpretation of the word may be different from God’s intention and the way to approach the word may not necessarily be the way we think it should be. Seek God and let Him be the driver.

“Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:29-30 (MSG)

For me, it is a lesson to re-position myself. From a place far from grace, God has called me to come back into His presence. A life-form, given the right nourishment and living condition will grow and bring forth fruit naturally. Fruits are byproducts of a well-nourished and thriving life. It was a call to focus on first things first – to live. So what is the source of Life? The answer is found in Jesus.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 (NASB)

Stuck in the process of clarifying my vocation and calling, upon hearing this, I can’t help but asked the question “What kind of fruits will my life produce?” If the focus is to Love Jesus, “How does the life of a Jesus loving me look like?” and “How am I to participate in the Body of Christ?” (Sounds familiar isn’t it?)

Events unfold and part of my musing includes the topic of “Disability and Euthanasia”, much inspired by the movie “Me Before You”. It was not the movie that sparked this thought in me. As someone with chronic illness experiencing the decaying of the mortal body, I am acutely aware of the possibility that one day I may be disabled (if not already) – may it never be! I really dislike the idea of me becoming a burden to the people around me and I often wonder if I will be able to find love, to find a life partner who among all other overrated desirable traits, has an additional attribute that says “Willing to Suffer”. Well that is a separate topic altogether. And so with that, euthanasia to me could solve the problem. If one day I do become incapable of contributing anything to the society, or is unable to do anything including taking care of my own day-to-day living, nobody should be inflicted with the burden of taking care of me. I think much of that comes from the modern-day worldview where we define our worth by the things we can do and our contribution to the world. I know it is wrong and I hate myself for thinking that… but I just can’t help it as one who will potentially cause others to be burdened. Maybe that is also why I try to be independent… too independent for my own good. A big part of my journey of pain and suffering is kept private. As much as it is a very lonely journey, I had made it worse by trying to do it on my own. The constant struggle between independence and vulnerability is real. I had tasted the good and bad of both and is fundamentally still adverse to the idea of putting my life at the forefront of men’s judgement. I like staying in my cave, alone.

In my 21-year quest to understand the suffering of the ‘righteous’, among others, one key element that gets me thinking each time is the role of suffering in a community and vice versa. Jesus is the Chief Sufferer of the Church. He died on the Cross for you and me so that we can be called the People of God. An excerpt from my favourite book The Wounded Healer reads:

“A Christian community is a healing community not because wounds are healed and pains are alleviated, but because wounds and pain become openings or occasions for a new vision. Mutual confession becomes a mutual deepening of hope, and sharing weakness becomes a reminder to one and all of the coming strength.”

It is all so nice. Such nice theology and such a wonderful idea. While I am fully aware and agree that pain and suffering provide an opportunity for Christian community to witness the works of God and a chance to imitate Christ in carrying the burden and joy of another, I struggle much with the application being the one who is suffering.  I know the famous saying of “Shared joy is doubled joy; shared sorrow is halved sorrow.” I have some first-hand experience but the inertia to not share is strong for this one. Call me ignorant or selfish but most of the time, sharing does not change anything. I still have to go through the pain and I still have to go through the treatments. I am mindful and weary that my long-suffering may cause compassion fatigue and disappointment in the people around me. I have enough struggles of my own and I may not be able to handle the emotions of the people who journey with me. On the other hand, I guess I am also fearful of men’s judgement. I do not want to be looked at differently, I am unwilling to be the subject of discussion and I want my privacy. It is safe.

God did not call us to live a safe life, but a life that conforms to His Sovereignty and one that displays His Glory. It will probably take me a lifetime to fully understand Love, God’s kind, but I was challenged. I was challenged to put what I have learnt in the intellect to practice. I was challenged to now act on what I proclaim to believe. Just like Job, God chastised me. He has called me into a place of full submission, worship and forgiveness. He has also called me into His Love, to taste and see Him. God’s love is too wonderful beyond comprehension. His Love sent Jesus to the Cross. His Love allowed Lazarus to die and then be resurrected, His Love allowed me to go through pain and suffering SO THAT I may be led to the full and endless experience of God – which I was created for. And in doing so, I am given the opportunity to display His Glory. Now that is hard to swallow right? Welcome to the club.

With all these things floating around my world, God lead me to Isaiah 55, vv 10-13 (NASB)

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

For you will go out with joy
And be led forth with peace;
The mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you,
And all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Instead of the thorn bush the cypress will come up,
And instead of the nettle the myrtle will come up,
And it will be a memorial to the Lord,
For an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.”

God’s word will not return to Him void, without accomplishing what He has desired and without succeeding in the matter for which He sent it. The same word which had been spoken over me over and over will not return to Him void. It is finished! Instead of the thorn bush, a cypress, known for its longevity, durability and fragrance will come forth. It will be a memorial to the Lord and an everlasting sign which will not be cut off.

I still have no idea on the manner in which His word will come to pass but my heart is satisfied in Him. The verses speak of a permanent and everlasting changed state. It speaks of an evergreen oak that will be a memorial to the Lord. May my life be that ‘memorial’ that when people see me, they see and be reminded of God and His Glory.

How does that work?

So I asked God earlier this year to sort of my “Participation”. I further asked the question regarding the kinds of fruits my life will produce and “How does the Jesus loving me look like?”

Be very prepared for surprises for God answers prayer in much unexpected ways. His ways are always higher than our ways. In the process of sharing my pains with another, I was invited to open up my life, specifically my journey of pain and suffering with the local community, as part of the Body of Christ (WHAT?!). The invitation was to document my prayers and reflections, in sharing, so that the community can follow, pray with me and witness the Glory of God through all these. With an open invitation like this and the Spirit working within me, I could not bring myself to say no. While all of me is screaming NO, I thought I will respond (with risk) this time, so as to not deny the work of the Spirit and to put faith in action. I was reminded that while I have been crucified with Christ, I have nothing to lose but everything to gain.  After all, I exist to bring Glory to Him. May I learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

“How am I to participate?” “How does a Jesus Loving me look like?” I asked… 🙂

can good things ever happen to me?

I think I have come to a stage where I am becoming skeptical to anything good that is happening to me. Could it be that events in life accumulated since my childhood have made me live strongly rooted in the belief that no good things will happen to me? What I do know and is increasingly more aware is that bad things on me no longer surprise or traumatize me as much as they used to be. Bad events in life used to rock my boat and leave me shattered at least for a few days. Now, as I encounter more and more bad news on me, I am able to accept them almost like part of life. Call it managed expectations or lack of hope.

I have grown up under the shadow of ‘I am not good enough and nobody likes me’. I care a lot about what others think of me and had always felt the need to prove myself. Upon an action trying to prove myself, I will be wary of what others may think – often wandering into negative thoughts of how other are discussing about me. While I know these are unhealthy, there is always a tendency to do so after each so-called ‘event’. I had to stop myself.

Why am I saying this? I believe there is a strong connection between how I deem myself and how I respond to the things around my world. I am right to say that it is rather unfortunate to be suffering a chronic illness since a young age and to go through all the complications that it has brought, but I could have faced it differently in a way showing that I truly love myself. Love myself enough to not be so insecure about what others may be discussing about me, love myself enough to know I deserve nothing less that what God has wanted for me, love myself enough to fight a good fight of dissatisfaction with my God whom I believe to listens and answers prayers, and love myself enough to allow others to love me. Most of all, love myself to know that I am Loved and deserve more than what I think of myself.

I am not there yet, and that’s a reality check. I went for a second opinion on my eye yesterday and the doctor gave me a clean bill and said that there is no evidence of any uveitis occurring in the last 4 weeks, and suggested that it could be an infection (which I know for sure it is not), or just dry eyes. To me, if this is true, it could either be that the steroid eyedrop the first doctor prescribed work wonders or God has heard and answered the prayers of my sojourners.

However, I remain unmoved at this moment. I am not convinced by either of the explanation. I am skeptical that this could happen to me. I somehow will not believe this until I have seen the first doctor again end of this month. And until he has cleared my eye, I remain skeptical. Do I want this to be true, of course… but somehow, my mind cannot comprehend it. Can good things happen to me? Do let it be so…