a radical love
I included this page in my website because I thought it would be nice to have a space where I get to share my thoughts, stories, and poems. It's been left blank for awhile now, and while I had thoughts of writing over the past many months, I never really got down to it. It wasn't until two weeks ago during my quiet time with God that I decided I wanted to share my testimony on Christmas day because of what Jesus means to me.
I used to be a very different person. I was very arrogant, I was often angry and had a temper, I was aggressive with my words, and I carried a lot of hurt and pain with me. During Junior College years, I became acutely aware of the emptiness I felt. Nothing could really fill it. I was also so deeply hurt by people that I decided to numb myself from feeling so that I did not have to deal with my disappointment and pain. It turns out that it wasn't that hard to numb myself from feeling. I eventually got used to not feeling anything, and it was comfortable. My state then reminded me of this quote from C.S. Lewis: To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
That was exactly what my heart became- it was impenetrable and unbreakable. It became hard. I was really into writing then, so I exploited the emptiness and the hardness of my heart to write. Eventually, it became my identity because I took it that the depth of emptiness and darkness in me of which no one could understand, was my edge above others. It felt incredibly lonely to not have anyone understand me, but it also became a source of pride that nobody except myself understood myself. I no longer really felt anything- perhaps only anger, because I was angry about many things. But I no longer felt happiness or sadness. I would just laugh along with others or "be sad" because my body knew how to react to social cues, and not because I really felt those things. It got to a point that a line from Sylvia Plath's novel really resonated with me. The protagonist said that she's convinced other people have an extra organ that allowed them to feel, because she felt nothing at all.
It was in university that things started to change for me. I attended orientation camp and the guys I met there were quite different from those I've met before. I was actually very disillusioned with men before I attended university, and I was convinced that I could trust no man to lead me in anything. Well, it was until I met them. They were like big brothers who took care of me, and for once, I actually felt okay to be led in things. I eventually started to like one of them because his heart for people was very apparent. He was a Christian and he loved God very much. I could see that he was different, and the way he loved people really stood out. Back then, I thought that christians and non-christians could be in a relationship because religion was only one part of us, and that I could still understand him even if I were of a different faith. Nevertheless, during the year, I was curious about who this God was, yet there wasn't really much of an impetus for me to find out more. There was one thing I was very clear of: I would not convert to Christianity because of him. If I ever were to follow Jesus, it would be for me and not for him. In the next orientation camp, I became a group leader together with a couple of other friends. My Christian friend decided to broach the topic of God one night after all camp activities had ceased. His church was going to start an Alpha programme for non-believers to find out more about Christianity, and his girlfriend told him to ask me if I were interested to attend. It turns out that my Christian friend remembered the conversation we had a year earlier about God and had been praying for me since then. I told him to give me some time to think because if I chose to go, I wanted to be open and committed to attending the sessions. During the week when I was deliberating my decision, it suddenly hit me that I would never be able to understand a large part of the life of the man I liked because I didn't know who his God was. He had lived his life with God being his everything, and if I did not know who his everything was, how could I ever come to understand him? I thought, let me go find out who is this God whom he speaks of with such love. That was when I decided to give Alpha a shot.
I remember enjoying every session, and Nicky Gumbel's logical way of approaching topics was really up my alley. It was during the third session when I saw the painting of Jesus holding a lamp and waiting outside the door that really did it for me. The moment I saw that painting, I knew exactly what it was portraying and at that moment I was inexplicably moved. There was no handle to the side of the door where Jesus was waiting. I was struck with the realisation that Jesus was gentle and unrelenting, waiting for me to open the door to invite Him in. There were vines growing over the door to illustrate how long that wait was, and I remember saying this to Jesus: If this is who You are, then I want to believe in You. The painting was exactly what I needed because for a long time, I had the misconception that Christianity was just plain aggressive because people were always pushing their faith in my face. There would be people walking along the streets asking me if I wanted to go to heaven or to hell, and I remember getting so pissed that I stood there arguing with them. There were also Christian events that I went that left me distasteful. In that moment, I saw the fallibility and problems of man. Christianity wasn't the problem; humans were. That night when I went home, I decided that I wouldn't lose anything in believing in Jesus. If He turned out to be true, I would have gained something great. But if He turned out to be false, I wouldn't have lost anything either because life would just be the same.
I said the sinner's prayer that night in my room, and I went to sleep after that. There was no groundbreaking change. The world did not tremble nor did a light break open from the heavens. I was just as I was. I started doing quiet time because my cousin gave me a devotional for new Christians. A month afterwards, I got into a situation where my life spun out of control and no matter how I tried to get it together, things were just so overwhelming that I was completely helpless. I cannot remember what led me to this, but I decided to surrender control to God. That was when everything became different. I cannot remember precisely how it all happened, but there were things that happened that resulted in great joy that when I felt happiness, I was so shocked that I felt it. It was my first time in years to feel anything at all. I was stunned and helpless at the same time because I didn't know how to deal with feeling things. It's quite amusing now that I think back on it. I was like a baby coming into contact with a foreign material. I felt such immense joy that I've never felt before, and I was suddenly aware of the missing emptiness in me. I was filled. In the consecutive months, I just kept feeling things. It took me two years to get used to feeling again. The first gift that God gave me was a new heart. That hardened, impenetrable and unbreakable heart was gone. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" 2 Corinthians 5:17
It has been five good years with God ever since. A lot has happened, and while I have experienced deep pain, I have also experienced immense joy and meaning. In every high and low, He has never left me. I have been refined and am still being refined by His love. I have insecurities and issues that remain unresolved, but I've also had issues dealt with. I have grown in security in Him, and have learned to love myself, to love the person He's created me to be. I have learned to love people the way He loved me, with greater abandon, with a generous inclination of the heart, with a genuine desire to seek their good, and with compassion- a love that's not transactional, but a love that's sacrificial. Anything good in me comes from Him. He is the good in me. That's why Christmas means a lot to me, because in Jesus I found redemption and restoration. He is my greatest gift, a gift I want to share with others.
Words have a special place in my heart. Perhaps because I am a linguist, I particularly enjoy savouring and analyzing words used by people in writing or in speech. They are a means of expression, and can be used creatively to convey a myriad of emotions, to illustrate a world beyond the one here, and to empower (if used well and responsibly). Words are not enough to fully encapsulate the complexity of human beings and this world, but within the limitations of each language, there is freedom for creativity, and we can try, to the best of our abilities, to communicate what's in our hearts and minds. I am, by no means, a good writer, but there are times I feel compelled to share certain things in the form of writing. So pop by once in awhile, and perhaps you may find that I have written something that was on my heart.