As my Gratitude Jar Project enters its 4th year, I'm realising more and more that contentment is not found in looking up towards any self-glorification, neither is it found in looking forward to any plans or in storing achievements. Though striving has its proper place, I am learning that satisfaction comes from recognising the beauty of surround sound bounty, from imparting kindness into the communities I have been put into, from infusing grace into the everyday lives of everyday people. Though it is a struggle to greet gossipers with graciousness, to seek the well-being of mockers, to be self-sacrificing, even as others are self-serving, even in struggle, there is reward.
A few years ago, I wondered about the futility of self-driven success. Drowning in a false dichotomy of mediocrity and excellence, I "pushed as far as I can go... but in the end it doesn't didn't even matter." (Linkin Park) The dichotomy I have come to find, exists not within the realms of whatever temporal success I (or any of us) may achieve in life (if any at all), but within my relationship as Created before my Creator.
Though many may loathe to play second fiddle or have the spotlight taken away, I have been led to gradually, over a cripplingly extended period of time, not only relinquish desire for prominence but deliberately yearn to be doorkeeper (Psalm 84:10), to be the spotlight that illuminates Another's radiance (and not be in the spotlight!), to perpetually play second violinist and to lay down vain imagination and flights of fancy, deeply assured that in the humility of meekness, an unfiltered, unInstagram-worthy life still possesses infinite value.
Life is far from what I thought it could be; it is eternally more rewarding and more fulfilling that anything I could have constructed or accomplished.
1.5 years ago I made a decision to leave the workforce. A combination
of ambition, anxiety and unresolved history had taken its toll and
without me realising, their effects had permeated every aspect of my
life; I was a train that didn't know how to slow down with not much
track left on the road. Knowing that only God could unravel the mess, I
embarked on an exercise of being wholly available to God for a
My initial assessment was that the issues would be "fixed" in 2 months. It is obvious in hindsight that my projected timeline turned out to be quite dismal =.=
Tomorrow I reenter the working world. Although lessons learnt are too
numerous to list here, 2017 has been for me a year of learning
dependence; that I can trust despite not knowing all the answers, that
surrender takes precedence over solutions, that there is a plan through
the pain, that service is sacrifice, that God's timing is perfect.
As my Gratitude Jar project completes its 3rd year, the lyrics of this
Lutheran hymn echo deep, evoking simultaneously loss and gain,
humility and hope, grief and glory.
" When through the deep waters I call thee to go
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress"
Joy is the flag flown high
From the castle of my heart
For the King is in residence there
When I was younger, I used to assume that I flew the flag. As pop culture will certainly attest, we have exalted ourselves as the Davids of Israel, the heroes of our imagination, the underdog who saves the day. Recently however, this old Sunday School song has returned to
memory to inform me anew.
Traditionally, the monarch's flag is flown from the
castle to declare that the monarch is "in residence." Through seasons of plenty or prolonged moments of disaster and uncertainty, though the
castle may be under relentless siege from all sides, even when rescue seems
unlikely or even impossible, that the flag continues to fly is testament that the Ruler
remains, that the castle has not been captured by belligerent forces.
This new understanding has brought fresh appreciation of a song previously
sang by rote. Today I understand that Joy flies high regardless of my emotions
and regardless of my circumstances. Happiness may be fleeting (especially if fueled by sugar-heavy chocolate) but Joy is a constant even on days that seem
dull and grey. It flies high and defiant against enemies who threaten to
overtake, sounding truth through trials. Joy entered the moment God the Joy
Giver claimed ownership over my life and it continues to declare the residence
of the King who dwells within.
Often, it is hard to find the distinction between happiness and joy.
Sometimes the two are seemingly intertwined yet at other times, even
are bereft of happiness, there is assurance of joy, if but a glimmer.
The world tells us to "seek happiness" but that's where wisdom leaves
and foolishness takes over. As much as we want to believe it, happiness
is not rooted in securing a home, a high-flying job or an exclusive
romantic relationship. We need only to listen to the woes of the world -
the lifelong mortgage, debilitating anxiety and crushing infidelity -
to realise that the advertised honeymoon (terms & conditions apply)
Our desires reveal the object of our Joy. It is a pet peeve of mine whenever Christians utilise Psalm 37:4 as a preamble guarantee of a soulmate. Good as relationships are, if we are sincere in delighting ourselves in God, His ownership becomes our central delight. A delight and not drudgery. Dynamic, not drone-like. Alive, not artificial. His goodness is our encouragement. Doing His will becomes our motivation and delight. In striving to please Him, our happiness is fulfilled.
Romantic affiliations, though good, only fulfil their goodness within the scope of God's pleasing will. Whilst by nature demanding, requiring our urgent attention, relations will ultimately only decay with time; an investment worth entering into, but only with sufficient and thought-out God-centered reason and purpose.
Admittedly, it is easy to be labelled "sour grapes" but I find it neither a burden nor a prerogative for me to prove otherwise :)
Even though I myself may lose sight of Joy when troubles overwhelm, the flag
continues to fly high, reminding both myself and the world of the sovereignty
and authority of the King who whose banner over me is love.
As it was the year before, the herald of a new year meant it was time for me to face the contents of
my "annual jar." I was terrified to revisit what I thought would be a
reopening of wounds that never healed; reminders of a seared spirit,
failed resolve and crushed ambition.
Instead, what met me in my
fear was grace upon grace. Every sting had been met with unreserved
mercy and every loss with undeserved opportunity. The effects of 2016
still reverberate but I look forward to new mercies in 2017, knowing that my burdens are carried by One whose strength I will continue to depend on and draw from, despite ongoing tensions as I try to grasp the magnitude between striving and yielding, servanthood and inheritance, Creator and created.
The 2016 jar is the photo above is set against the backdrop of an embroidered tus kii.
Found in Kazakh gers, also known as yurts, of western Mongolia, the tapestry design is
purposely left unfinished to signify that life, for all its tragedy and
beauty, continues regardless. May today mark the beginning of renewed focus, of not holding back, for free falling.
...but as for me, and my household, we will serve the Lord.
During an impromptu, unguided hike under a towering canopy, The Pilgrim's
Progress came to mind. I had found myself doubting the faintly-marked,
narrow trail that wound its way across a changing terrain - tree roots the width of my thigh, clay hills, muddy banks and
ancient rocks - wondering if the route was outdated, tempted with each passing minute to search for another way besides the never-ending path we were on whenever alternative
options looked easier or voices were heard through the trees.
Half-tumbling, half-stomping through the uncertain undergrowth, when we finally reached our journey's end it dawned that whether shadows threaten or our hearts embrace nature's beauty, if we pursue the path steadfastly, we will arrive at our destination.
Just as it was on the hike, so it is in life. I was reminded that though the earth's riches may beckon, and worldly wisdom captivates with her allure, though distractions may direct affections and energy elsewhere, and anxiety brings us low, all that is required in this Christian life is that I remain a faithful witness and helper, loving God and His church (what that looks like in practice is another story!).
There is no promise that the path will be free from burrs or creatures that sting and cause harm; there will be times when the path is showered with mercies abundant. Whatever our personal experiences, we walk
humbly in the footprints of giants who have gone before us, knowing that
even as our heart's yearning is for a distant future, the groaning
itself is a gift, as we wait eagerly for redemption at the end of a long
road of perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
To achieve balance, one needs to accept that falling multiple times is simply part of the process as we learn to find our feet on shaky ground. Failure does not characterise the fall.
There is joy yet to come.
Last night I dreamnt that I had to look after an albino baby koala. Whilst cradling it, I stepped into a glass elevator in a shopping mall, which then went up several floors, passing black and white geometric designs along the way.
I wonder if a dream interpreter will affirm that it means I'll have a white, Aussie baby during my climb up the corporate elevator in creative design.
What an absentminded lot we are! How short-sighted and myopic! How disgustingly pig-headed and corruptible, selling our souls for measly fifty dollar bills and bags of rice planted with our own hands!
It is no wonder the wrath of Malayan titans settle on Fairland Sarawak, ready to rip her people to shreds, condemning us to an eternity of deserved derision for betraying indignant ignorami, too lofty and important to breathe humble reason, insistent that the blame lies at a door made of zinc, held up by rusting twine and resigned hopes.
It would appear that the rags-to-riches Cinderella story only works before midnight; when promises of bright lights are lapped up by stepchildren in a starry-eyed moment and the shattered dreams of an age ago are quickly forgotten. But as the chimes end and hands turn, dazed mice are left scrambling for pieces of broken pumpkin, after carriage wheels have crushed them into dirt.
Yet there are a precious few who have been willing to ignore the seemingly futile effort of creating a tidal bore and have crossed the road yet travelled, to lead by serving instead of requiring, to pioneer peace into a bruised heartland, to initiate wisdom without withholding, to restore without refrain.
To strangers who become family, this is our tanah tumpah darahku, ibu pertiwiku.
Lofty titans may eventually benefit from the hands of the meek, reaping what they did not sow, eating what they did not plough, but the real reward lies in forged friendships, woven kinship, widened perspective and renewed vision to nurture a nation still on its knees.
It matters less, the frequency, brevity or length of my internal monologue. A word be too much, more often too little, but if anything be said, since we are all exiles in a strange land from every tribe, nation and tongue, have compassion! This race is won not by individuals; neither the first nor the last for those who are ahead will have to wait awhile until the last person in Christ crosses the finish line and the last would not be last unless someone crossed the line before him.
I exist in a stream of consciousness that exists in a magical land of blue dragons and bottomless cliffs baked in the orange glow of a setting sun. Likes chocolate. And horses. A lot. Confused ENTJ-ENTP-INTP-ENFP. Jesus Freak.