Brightest [11 May 2016]

When I was younger, I dealt with my emotions by penning them down. It was my personal form of catharsis, to trace the timelines of when each wave of thought crashed upon my shores, to the second they receded, to the wet prints left on the sand. Then, in Bookpub, I learnt how to put my abstract ideas into skeletons, details, metaphors. Somewhere along the way, I became well-versed in romanticising pain.

Since then, my first instinct has always been to make art out of my new pains. It didn’t matter if nobody understood what my poems meant, as long as I did. Never mind that the words never made it to pen or paper, never mind that they only resided in my head.

It took only the closest of friends to know the sad part of me; the part that imagines the worst in every situation, the part that immerses herself in re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy or Love, Rosie, the part that listens to sappy Copeland or Stars tunes. Most know the optimistic, jovial, out-going aftermath of all that.

But you, my dear, was one of the closest to comprehending my pains. You were there for the re-runs, the concerts, the orchestras. You were there with your burden for my burdens. You were there, praying for my salvation. And our God is a faithful God. But your pain, my love, is not mine to romanticise. It’s something beyond my imagination, beyond what I have ever experienced. Something above trivial worries like a bad grade or unrequited puppy love. Something that no words, no art, no tracing could help me fathom even a semblance of what you are going through.

My human understanding is so clouded, my wretched heart so limited that I don’t even know what is the right hope to harbour. I didn’t know back then, that there was an all-knowing, all-loving Father who knew what my thoughts were before I even articulated them in my head. But now I do. So I can only entrust everything to our sovereign Lord right now. I pray that His peace and comfort covers you, His right hand hold you wherever you are, His fresh mercies revealed to you, His protection guard you against the enemy’s lies. Love you bbygirl.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

– Psalms 139:7-12

Love is a commandment [29 Dec 2015]

On our last Sunday lesson of 2015, God placed a sentence in my heart:

Love is a commandment.

Which means; we don’t love based on our preferences, but because He loved us first. He showered us with grace and mercy when we don’t deserve it, so to be more Christ-like is to do the same. And that’s the attitude that I want to bring with me as I step into 2016.

I reflected on the year, and I think that I really have grown to be more selective with who I give my love to. For me, it’s the hardest when I am forgotten or excluded. Because I have always loved so recklessly, I tend to impose the same unrealistic expectations on those around me – even new people that I meet. As social creatures, it’s natural to desire reciprocation. It then becomes tempting to be petty and ration my love.

And I think that was a good thing in many people’s eyes; as I aged, I find that many of my friends have done the same. Love became a transaction; we invest only in those whom we deem worthy, not those who have wronged us.

But none of us was worthy when God sent his Son to this earth to die for our sins – an ultimate gesture of His love. In the last week, God gave me a glimpse of the relief and lightness that would come if only I responded with love instead of animosity.

I want to seek His Kingdom above everything, especially man’s approval. I hope that in 2016 and beyond, I will love and serve not because I want to earn the recognition for myself but because it is pleasing in God’s eyes. Because His promises are real, and He is never late, never early but always on divine time. And I have seen him turn my 1% around. He has spoken many great things to come in the new year, and things might not be looking up – even impossible – right now, but I trust in His sovereignty. I choose to praise and worship, and can only pray for wisdom to discern His will from my own desires.

So respond with love;
Love, not only the ones you deem worthy
Love, even those who have forgotten or wronged you
Love, not only as an act of reciprocation
Love, as the first step to everything

Love, not only when it is easy
Love, especially in times when it is the hardest to show grace
And finally Love, because we really shouldn’t be hoarding the one thing we can give infinitely

Treat yo self [10 Nov 2015]

I didn’t deliberately search for material to address the potential ‘philosophical debate’ that came up in the last post, but my lecturer recently posted an article to our class group. It was titled Want to Change the World? Be More Selfish with a thumbnail of Donna and Tom’s famous Treat Yo Self line from Parks & Recreation. It was basically screaming my name.

In Aaron Maniam’s [super legit public servant, teacher, polymath… seriously look him up] Leadership in a Complex World class, we often discussed the tensions faced by leaders who are trying to drive social change – be it deciding the RIGHT thing to do, the GOOD thing to do, balancing between civil liberties and social contracts, or managing complexity. Bottom line: when leaders embark on social change projects, there are bound to face antagonising forces, ideologies or effects from the intended ones. In fact, if you’re not facing any resistance, there’s a chance that your endeavour might not be as significant as it could be (I’ve since learnt to embrace curveballs).

One debate that I’ve been trying to grapple with for quite a while now is the tension between doing something for others and doing what makes yourself feel good.

Have you ever heard anyone scoff at others who do volunteer work to ‘make themselves feel good’? I admit that I feel a little guilty every time someone passes a remark like that, because honestly I love the time that I spent with youths during Trybe programmes, and the Tuesday evenings with the Connect Tuition kids. I guess most of us have always viewed self-interests and others’ needs on opposite ends of the spectrum; that somehow one dilutes the spirit of the other. However, the article above offers an alternative view – a simple, yet convincing argument.

Based on the premise that helping others and serving yourself are not on the same spectrum but different scales entirely, the author uses a 2×2 quadrant to derive four outcomes instead of two:

Since self-interest and other-interest are no longer seen as mutually exclusive (why have I never thought of this before), the possibility of working on projects that can generate positive change for others WHILE fulfilling your own higher-order needs for actualisation becomes entirely possible! Besides, being able to work on good projects that feed your own soul also ensures that you don’t burn out, allowing you to make a bigger difference in the long run.

I guess another takeaway is that there’s no “right” thing to do for everyone, so we shouldn’t chase the same things that everyone is striving to do, nor should we chastise others who pursue the things they love? Just find something you love, and jump in with both feet!

To quote the author:

“Treat yo self to a meaningful career. The rest, and the big numbers, will follow.”

Investing in Youths [20 Oct 2015]

Every time I start a new blog, I feel compelled to justify its purpose – what am I supposed to write about? And who reads these posts, anyway? Over time I just give in to the fact that it’s really just for documentation of random bouts of inspiration or the things that I am passionate about at the moment.

I was going to jot down notes about meeting the new Acting Minister for Education a few weeks back, and my thoughts about higher education and employability but the tl;dr is this: being in my final year in university has given me even stronger conviction that our local institutions do not prepare any of us for the workforce and that really needs to change. Needless to say, I was really excited when Mr. Ong Ye Kung mentioned that there are plans for tie-ups between WDA and tertiary institutions in the future. I also got to meet Ms. Low Yen Ling, from MSF, who was talking about WSQ certificates in the social services sector. There’s hope for me now, as (one of my) latest interests is really to work in that sector – I’m beginning to regret not majoring in Social Work *sigh*

Although I want to venture into many things (education, meaningful media, social entrepreneurship, social service, and the list goes on…), one of my deepest passions is really still in youth development. When I was in Japan, I worked for a non-profit that provides educational support for orphans who have lost either one or both of their parents to illness, accidents or natural disasters. They organised several summer camps, called tsudoi 集い [Japanese for “get-together”], which provides mainly emotional support for these young people.

I attended the Iwate-san tsudoi in Tohoku, where the 2011 earthquake struck. Hearing their stories was extremely hard, yet inspirational at the same time, as they spoke of their ambitions. I’ll admit I didn’t do much, but somehow our presence was enough to move them – that someone from the other side of the world believes in the cause of education and empowerment, that someone believed in them. We communicated mainly through Google Translate, but technology was barely sophisticated enough to capture what we felt. Seeing the transformation in their spirits was just testament to how empowerment is really not just speaking fluffy, motivational words at young people, but it requires a sincere heart and a true connection above anything else.

Recently, I finished my third empowerment camp at my alma-mater’s youth academy, and I’m completely refreshed and reminded of the importance of investment in our young people. (I have to admit that my involvement in these camps also benefit my own spirit, begging the question: “Is an act still altruistic if it also benefits the actor?” But that’s a philosophical debate for another day) They have so much potential in them, and it’s crucial to start shaping them to be servant leaders with empathy right away. Gone are the days where we continue to disempower them precisely because of their age, that they are not ready to shoulder responsibilities until that ~magical moment~ where the sections of our society tip over and it’s their turn to take over. We have to start preparing them now, and it’s up to us to nurture the pillars of our future.

The Act Of Killing [8 Oct 2015]

We watched a snippet of this documentary in our Transitional Justice & War Crimes class, which is a pretty cool class taught by a pretty cool law professor, by the way. The Act Of Killing follows the executioners involved in the 1965-66 anti-communist purge in Indonesia, and the interesting part of this film is that the director asks these perpetuators to reenact their actions in front of the camera. My suitemates and I were so intrigued that we watched the entire film over the last few days (it’s 2 hours and 40minutes long), and we were left awestruck by every aspect of the documentary. Touted as “a definite powder keg for active dialogue”, The Act of Killing really makes you think about war crimes, society and humanity. The name “anonymous” also appears 49 times in the credits, due to fear of revenge from the death-squad killers. 10/10 would recommend:

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