The Road Not Taken

Studied Literature for a few years in my life. I didn’t always like it, but some day I began to. I’ve no idea when and how that happened. I began to like poems as well. For its brevity but also for the richness of meanings they bring out through simple lines, rhythms, diction, rhymes, and all sorts of things.

Amongst all that I came across, I’ve always liked Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken since the first time I looked at it. It’s been 8 years. I guess it’s because I see how my life pans out on roads not taken. It started off with venturing into IB out of curiosity. Got rejected by Medicine and thought since I only had one dream, it doesn’t matter what else I do, so I decided to go into something almost unheard of, something that’s less of studying – Environmental Studies. And now, working as a wildlife consultant – though I honestly don’t feel like one.

In this course, I experienced trekking through thick undergrowths. Our professor taught us to shuffle our feet as we walked, so that snakes would hear us and turn away from us. Yeah, while some of us might be curious which species would appear, the risk was too great to bear. As for me, I guess I would say I am adventurous only within the boundaries of guaranteed safety. So I felt a little nervous at times when we had to trek through tall grasses. Even now when I work outfield, I would still choose to stay on cleared paths if I have the choice.

Was just thinking to myself, why do you take the road less taken? Especially when you are not aiming for the goal that lies at the end of such a path. Or rather, you don’t even have a dream you’re headed towards anymore. The road less taken would mean that it’s not cleared like those well-trodden ones. It’s gonna be thick and filled with many unknowns. Who knows, if a figurative snake might just sneak up and strike you? So why take the risk and tread on such a path when you are not heading anywhere in particular?

I thought about this for a while before coming to a conclusion. It’s because that path that’s so well-cleared that many are on it and they know where they are headed towards, well, the destination is not what I want. Maybe sometimes it’s easier to know what we don’t want rather than what we want. So what if I reach there ten times faster than others did, so what if I stand out in that place, so what if I do relatively well there? If it doesn’t mean much to me, then why bother wasting time?

As for the road less taken, I don’t know what lies ahead. To be honest. Ever since I got the letter informing me that I wasn’t accepted into Medicine, there goes my sense of direction. It’s just taking one step at a time, wherever that takes me. Seems a little silly to go onto an unknown path just because the prospects of the other one is not desirable. To risk it all. It’s as if, there’s this tinge of hope that there might be something desirable lying at the end of these uncertainties.

Yet, I remember, to pray that I’ll not be alone, that I’ll not be leading the way. But my God be leading and going before me all the way. You know when you trek together, the one who goes ahead leaves a trail. The tall grass lays slightly flatter than those surrounding it. Whenever I trek, I’ll always watch out for where people ahead of me had stepped on, so that I could step back into the same spot. Reason being, if they have stepped on that patch and nothing struck them, there’s a higher chance that that patch is safe. Even if there was a snake nearby, perhaps the shuffle from their feet or the crunch of the leaves had warned the snake of our presence and made it slither away. (By the way, snakes are timid in that they would go away and not attack unless they feel threatened.) 

So if my God goes before me, I just have to watch where He steps and take that path. The journey’s gonna be safe. As for the destination, trust that He who knows it all loves me and wants the best for me.

The Road Not Taken

Bye 2016, Hello 2017

While the new year “feel” is still here, I thought I should get down to writing down the gains and losses in 2016 and my hopes for 2017. Briefly reflected on my spiritual birthday about a month ago, but didn’t get the time to sit down and write them down properly.

2016 was a year of many changes. So many that it felt as though years went by when it’s only been 365 days. Just the other day when I took a look at my organiser, I was surprised/shocked/stunned to realise that many events took place only this year. I would say 2016 was marked by two significant changes – a friendship, and graduation/start of work life.

In fact, when I went back to look at when was the day I decided to be committed in building this friendship, I was surprised to see that it was just last October. So the friendship had only been 8 months and it’s gone. In thinking of what to write here, I just did a flip-through of my organiser from January to December 2016 and I saw how a name kept appearing in the first 6 months of the year, and it suddenly disappeared in the second half of the year. Disappeared, entirely.

The realisation was, painful. That’s one of those friends that I valued a lot. If not, I wouldn’t have persevered in resolving each of those conflicts we had. I remember, in one of those fights we had, both of us couldn’t believe how I stood undeterred despite having harsh words hurled at me. We both agreed that anyone would have left under that circumstance. I was surprised at how I was, and I remember saying that I couldn’t believe that I stayed to talk it out still. If the friendship did not matter, why would anyone in their right mind persist in situations like that?

Each of those times we fought and reconciled, that feeling was sweet. We fought because of differences, but I’ll never agree that differences should be a reason for quitting a friendship. Certainly tiring when conflicts happened, nonetheless sweet when reconciliation happened. But this time round, tried but there’s nothing I can do with a wall erected.

The other thing that marked 2016 was graduating for (possibly) the final time as a student, and becoming a working adult. Responsibilities are certainly different, and to some extent, burdensome. I remember feeling overwhelmed just by the thought of that before work even began.

And then came challenges to my values and principles as a Christian. I had to take a step back – many times – to re-look at my values and principles. There were times I doubted myself and wondered if I’m just a naive fresh graduate with an idealistic world in mind. In fact sometimes I still do. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been in this long enough – well, it’s only been 7 months – to draw a valid conclusion.

It is also because of these challenges that I asked myself what it is that I really want in my life. To put it another way, what would make me feel accomplished? My director talked to me about getting to a managerial position before turning 30. Well, sounds great and why not? I certainly don’t mind that but at the same time, I came to realise that that thought didn’t really excite me. I figured that what excites me is seeing people grow, seeing people learn. Since the day that I worked part-time as a life coach, I’ll always recall the growth I witnessed and the sparkles in the eyes of those youths I worked with. What makes me feel accomplished would be adding value to others’ lives.

Still dealing with these challenges. And honestly, it’s been a lonely ride. Brutal as it may be, but the fact is most friends can’t be bothered. Mainly because they have their own lives to deal with as well.

And to be really honest, there was a period of time I even doubted the genuineness of the love in the church. These are definitely nice, good and well-meaning people. But sometimes I felt that most of the friendships in church are restricted to the boundaries of a cell group. Once we transit into another cell group, these people are done with being part of your life and they are gone. Very few would even check back. This is very different from the friendships I find outside the walls of a church. While I can’t say these friendships outside are about unconditional love (in that you love someone despite their flaws, weakenesses and even sins), these friends are at least people who look forward to going a long way with you.

But thank God, that I can say that there’s ‘very few’ who would check back rather than ‘none’ in His church. These were the people who made it impossible for me to tell God that His community is not genuine. I figured that a church that loves genuinely and cares for one another regardless of whether you’re in the same cell group or not is an ideal. We are rather far from that. But there are people who live that out. So I stayed put because my accusations couldn’t stand valid in view of these people that God has placed in my life.

I still wasn’t fully convinced until the day at Amanda’s birthday party. When I looked around and saw that those friends from church were the ones serving food and helping out with decorations and stuff, I saw that they were like family to her. It’s like as though they took Amanda’s matters like their own. These were not people from her cell group, so I guess, no obligations? haha But yes, that answered the challenge that I posed to God. Thank You God :)

Guess my conclusion is that while the church is not where God wants us to be, those of us who believe in that vision should continue striving to love others in that way. In the midst of struggling with that, I did find people who felt as torn by that as I did and it’s an encouragement for me to know that there are people who minded that.

So, those were the two major changes in 2016. Pretty tough I would say. But. As I wrote down in point form the things that took place and what I learned, I saw God in every part of the journey. How He allowed me to run away from Him because I hated where my thoughts would wander to whenever I stayed silent, how He pursued me by giving visions to a stranger and an acquaintance regarding me, how I had no one I could turn to but He’s always always there for me. Always. I experienced and learned what it means to call Him my Refuge, my Comforter, my Rock, my Anchor. My God is faithful.

Spent some time with God before this. One of the songs I sang to Him was Potter’s Hand, and I told Him honestly, I feel scared whenever I say to Him, “Mould me.” Because it seems like He always take that seriously. And it’s, more often than not, painful. I asked Him if moulding could ever be enjoyable – I have no idea man. So yes, singing that song to Him on Day 1 of 2017 was rather… nerve-wrecking. 2016 was already tough – yes to the extent that I actually felt maybe death isn’t that bad afterall because at least I’ll be done with the pains on this earth – so I can’t imagine a 2017 that’s as tough or tougher because I already am feeling tired. But at the same time, I trust my God, my Potter, the One who turns ashes to beauty, who picks my broken pieces and turn these into a beautiful art piece.

And going ahead, instead of setting a yearly resolution, I decided to set up checkpoint number 1 in March, for these 3 things:

  • Establish a daily rhythm where time is set aside for God.
  • In establishing that rhythm, have 2 days a week in which I exercise.
  • With regards to that friendship, to let go and let God. I don’t know what this entails, honestly, but I asked that God lead me in that.

Beautiful Lord, wonderful Saviour
I know for sure, all of my days are
Held in Your hands
Crafted into Your perfect plan
You gently called me into Your Presence
Guiding me by Your Holy Spirit
Teach me dear Lord,
To live all of my life through Your eyes

I’m captured by Your holy calling
Set me apart, I know You’re drawing me to Yourself
Lead me Lord, I pray

Take me, mould me, use me, fill me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand
Call me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me
I give my life to the Potter’s hand

Bye 2016, Hello 2017

Stories

Stories that move and inspire seldom come easy. If we haven’t been placed in a similarly difficult situation, how shall we truly empathise and come alongside someone who’s going through it? If we can’t make sense of what we hear, how shall we comfort? Not impossible I suppose, just that empathy would help a lot.

Not a counsellor by training or a psychology major in university. Well, I made a conscious choice to not go there. It’s a personal preference; I would prefer to come by the side of someone as a friend, simply as a friend, and not have it tied to what I do. 

As a friend, then, I tell stories in the hope of encouraging. One of the valuable lessons I learnt as a young Christian was that my encounters can be used by God to impact someone else who’s going through what God had brought me through. 

At this point in time, I’m not in an ideal situation that I would like to be in. When I shared with my friends about the new ambition I have in life, I said I’m giving myself a date and I’ll try my best to persevere till then. 2 years… Seems long, somewhat uncertain, not absolutely pleasant nor desirable, not even sure if I would really stay on till then. But I’ll keep on going for as long as I can, so that I would have another story to tell in time to come. 

If God allows and I do get to my ambition, I do believe that this story can be used to inspire and enlighten these that I want to reach. If I jump off this boat right now, I’ll never know how tough things can be, and I’ll never know what it is that they really need to hear.

Stories

Grace

I was worthless. I had thought myself to be worthless. And even as I look back right now, I still think that I was almost right in feeling that way about myself. Memories of those nights that always come back to me is this kid who teared in silence, wallowing in self-pity and thinking that maybe they would see my worth if I’m gone. Maybe.

It was just a few days ago that I realised that part of the reason why I lacked ambition was because I had no hopes about the future. It never crossed my mind to take on any leadership role – no matter how small – in the classroom. Why would anyone notice me at all?

But things changed the day I received Christ. I began to see how each day was filled with meaning. Days were no longer mundane like before. It was as if I entered into a whole new world. Sense of worthlessness and hopelessness left me, because I found my worth and my hope in Jesus Christ, my Saviour. He chose to die for me; Someone chose to die for me.

I began to see that there is a purpose in my life, that there is a God whose Will I’m living out and a future that He has planned for me. There is a future.

I had nothing to begin with, and that means I have nothing to lose. If grace carries me to where I am, grace it shall be that carries me forward. May I remember this, that I have nothing to lose but much to gain.

Because He lives
I can face tomorrow
And because I know
I know He holds my future
And life is worth the living
Just because He lives

Grace

At the library

Dropped by the library on my way back. Well 1, because I’m really curious about someone’s biography and 2, I might be able to afford some time of enjoyment next week when thesis is done. Oh and yes, this shall be the first biography I read if I read it, if. And it’s in Chinese! (One of the things I liked about her was her fluency in Chinese as she spoke to us today).

Anyway, I couldn’t find the biography on the shelves so I went to the helpdesk. When it was my turn to speak to the staff after 5 minutes of waiting, this little girl who seemed to be of primary school age emerged out of nowhere to ask the staff a question. I was actually a little impatient when I was in the queue. I don’t know if the staff noticed that but when the little girl did that, the staff seemed a little worried about me. I gave my attention to the little girl who stood beside me asking her question so earnestly while being oblivious to the situation. From the corner of my eye, I saw that the staff was trying to understand her question while taking glances at me to observe my reaction.

Well, my reaction was… I looked at that little girl with some kind of interest in her question while holding a smile on my face so that the staff will not get more worried than she already was. It was interesting to me that she had asked her question about searching for the availability of a book so earnestly and politely. I lost my impatience. When she was done with her question, I bent down a little and told her about the computers at the side and taught her how to get the answers she needed from it.

This random encounter made me realise that I’ve forgotten how it feels like to interact with the young ones like this girl here. It has been some months since I last had a conversation with them, because FYP started and teaching children came to a halt. I actually enjoy talking to them. Well I don’t squeal over their cuteness, but I do have some personal beliefs about how an adult like myself (oh the… horror? Never really fancied the idea of being one) should regard them since young.

Children, teenagers, social impacts, environment – how shall I reconcile these interests? There must be some ways, and perhaps one day I’ll begin to discover them, if God wills.

At the library

Inspiring Figures

And it totally doesn’t help when I met boss. The boss of this place that I’ve spent years of my life in. Met her outside Mandai, met her in school in fact, representing not this organisation but another.

Inspired. I never had much of an impression of her nor this other organisation, but the 2 hours we had with her changed that. Throughout the seminar, I kept wondering to myself what is it that makes me want to keep on listening, what is it that’s… I don’t know, kinda changing something within me. Perhaps the charisma she has as a speaker? Perhaps because she seems to be able to encapsulate all we’ve learnt in a business concept and make it work so successfully like I haven’t seen till this point? I don’t know, until a classmate put a word to it.

Principled. I hardly meet people who are so principled. Having good principles (who says principles are always good?) is one thing, standing firm on her own is another. Conservation not for the sake of itself, but for the betterment of people. Protecting her own rights and her employees’ rights and telling us that it’s not worth working for someone who doesn’t care about you. Pursuing what she’s passionate about – environment, creating. Not doing things for the sake of PR efforts but simply because she truly believes in doing these, so much so that the company didn’t advertise their initial efforts like most would. Tough decisions but having a fair reasoning that is founded on her values to support it. Making impacts in societies around the world, providing communities with development and jobs. Not desperate to strike deals but understanding that sustaining a partnership is like a marriage – you’ve got to be clear on who you are in your negotiation. Never compromise on your principles.

These things sound so nice and familiar and all, but I haven’t really seen anyone who has handled all these so so well. And as I was listening to her, I just wanted to sign myself up for a few years commitment to learn from her, formally or informally, in this organisation or the other. Whatever it is, she makes me feel like there is much that I want to learn from her. Her attitudes, principles, business sense, etc.

It makes me want to drop what I have on hand, a.k.a. my new job. Feel like making her my role model and finding ways to learn from her, even if that means being her personal secretary. But then again, considering the practicality of the situation (i.e. fresh graduate who knows nothing much about work, her being so up there and I’m just a small fry who’s easily overlooked, having study loans to clear in the next few years), I guess a more feasible thing to do is to work my way there. 2-5 years road map to get to her or that organisation, shall see what can be done! Who knows, she might give me a better chance as a result of that determination or the process or something.

Ohyes, and I’m having a totally positive impression of that organisation now. I see how values and core beliefs are translated into their business strategies and how they are actively upheld. Well, it can be argued that a presentation of course presents the best perspective of the organisation. But we did ask tough questions, challenging the organisation’s decisions only to realise that they’ve thought well and done good. I think, my favourite part of the organisation is the positive changes they bring into communities that governments didn’t even think they have the potential to be developed.

I guess, hearing from her did give me some hope too. She showed how coming from a less than well-to-do family doesn’t mean I will have a life of limited success (I’ll define success here as doing novel and unthinkable things that make significant impacts socially and economically, while having these built on what you truly believe in), but being determined in holding firm to her beliefs can make things possible.

So inspired today wow! I like this unintended birthday gift :D Best talk in this module so far.

Inspiring Figures

Oceans (Where feet may fail)

One of the most memorable experience I had in 2015 was the Bohol trip. Did many things for the first time in that trip, and that included being boated into the middle of the sea, told to do a giant stride into the sea, and then swim away from our boat. Well, at least my prof commended me for doing a perfect giant stride during our practice, so I guess that’s one less thing to worry about.

One thing that made me a little scared though, was the fact that I was half-blind. I couldn’t have my glasses on, and the snorkling masks were without prescription. When we had our practice, I couldn’t even see jellyfishes swimming around us. I only knew of their presence because my coursemates were shouting to get others to stay away from them. All I could do was to follow calmly behind some of my friends and to trust that they know where they were going. It didn’t help when the water turns cloudy as the people in front take a step forward, ah well. So that was how my first time floating out in the sea was like – unable to see anything, got warned previously about some creatures that may appear out of nowhere, and so yeah. Couldn’t wait to get out of it… but we had to stay in those waters for 4 hours on each of those 2 days.

My diver-friends probably didn’t think those were legit concerns. Well, Bohol is known to be a place that divers love going to, for all that they can find there. Now that I’m away from that place, thinking back, it’s actually not that bad. I mean, I’m still alive. But other than that, that was my first time seeing so many things up close – different shades of clear blue water, colourful corals, hundreds of fish swimming past me from time to time, a live sea cucumber (I had only seen them lying on the dining table or in the kitchen before going to Bohol). And I don’t even know when’s the next time I will have a chance to see these again.

These are as much as I can associate with an ocean. The first few times I sang this song, I declared those words with so much faith, so much anticipation to see what God is going to do, specifically in my course. Last Saturday, we sang this song again. This time round, though, it wasn’t easy singing it at all. It was that moment that I began to understand that song a little more.

It was vision weekend last Saturday, so our senior pastor shared about the vision that God has for our church this year. Kainos – a new beginning, in which our faithful God does greater things in new ways like we have never seen before. Having attended one of the ministry meetings late last year, I’ve heard from him about the practical steps that the church is going to undertake this year. To be very honest, there was much reluctance to have to be part of this. My prayer since that time was, “If this is really You, then You gotta convince me.” Still struggling with that at the moment.

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand, will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me… indeed. Changes. Friends who know me will know how unsettling and discomforting changes are to me. To move into a place that’s almost entirely new, if not really entirely new, is scary. Who I will meet, what might this new place be like, whether I will persist…

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Saviour

As I sang these words last Saturday, I told God in tears, You’ve asked of me a difficult prayer.

Being short-sighted and not being able to see what’s ahead made me just want to stay as close to the boat as possible. Or at least, as close to the next human being I could find right next to me. At the very least, I wouldn’t be left stranded in that sea, which I was totally not familiar with. I remember there was once my friend and I were checking out that patch of sea in order to fulfill our task. So we just kept swimming ahead with our heads in the water the entire time. Until. We saw what seemed like a deep, dark blue wall, that resembled pitch darkness. We couldn’t see anything beyond that point. Our first reaction was fear, and we quickly swam back to where we came from.

At that “wall”, it felt as if the sea bed just suddenly dropped somewhere beneath where we could no longer see it – it was scary. To be led to where my trust is without borders, where it is deeper than my feet could ever wander, reminds me of that “wall” that we met. Who knows what’s even in there, and why it looked so different suddenly. Who knows what might happen to me.

Still, I sang that as my prayer. As much as I hate coming to face to face with changes, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way. There’s still a lot of fear, and I think I might just be taking a step at a time. And part of me, the silly part, is kind of wondering how many steps will the next 11 months require me to take – like you know, Kainos is the vision for this year, right? Well, I gave whatever I could find in me to sing those words as my prayer, so… alright.

In the presence of my Saviour. This shall be my assurance. I wonder, what my eyes will behold this time.

Oceans (Where feet may fail)